Archive for January, 2010

Local trending topics on Twitter

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Regular users of Twitter will already be familiar with the “trending topics” function, which shows which words and phrases are being most tweeted about at any given time.

From today, Twitter have rolled out the option to view more ‘local’ trending topics, with the thinking that these will be more relevant and interesting for the user.

For those who rather like the global nature of Twitter, the choice still remains to see a worldwide picture – and, at the moment, ‘local’ only means ‘UK’.

It will be interesting to see whether this feature drills down to a city level in the near future (as it already does for key cities in the US), and, if so, what that will mean for local businesses. You may find that small campaigns and pieces of news really start to make waves in your own local community – and that has to be for the good.

Search engines – through your TV

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Now, some of us have only just got used to the whole concept of internet via mobile phones – now we also have to get to grips with the increasing access through internet-enabled TVs and games consoles, such as the Wii, which can turn your TV screen into a monitor.

This week, Yahoo! announced a further rolling out of its TV widget, plus a developer kit to allow enterprising developers and publishers to work it into their own applications. Many TVs across the world will now come to the consumer with the internet as a feature, and with Yahoo!’s widget pre-installed.

Thus far, we haven’t seen many adapting their websites to appear better on a TV screen, as they do for the smaller mobile screen. Although resolution is lower, the large screen means that few changes are vital. At this point, the developing use of internet via the TV is simply proof, if it were still needed, that the web is becoming ever more pervasive. If you don’t have a website, or you have a substandard one, your business really is going to be left behind.

Google’s latest tweaks

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Google really is constantly refining its search results, on a never-ending quest to make them perfect. That’s great news for end-users, and slightly more perturbing for small-business owners who may feel that they just don’t have the time to make the refinements to their websites that will take advantage of the new algorithms.

Just this week, for example, Google announced three new features. First, add ‘hours’ or ‘menu’ to a search for say, a restaurant or museum, and where available, Google will display them right in the results.

Second, “rich snippets”: add these brief summaries to upcoming events pages or reviews, and Google will show them. The example it gives is concerts in San Jose, which currently displays three upcoming events right below the map.

And thirdly, “answer highlighting”. A large proportion of search queries are questions, or based on the desire to find out a fact. Now, queries such as ‘author War and Peace’ will return results where the answer is highlighted in the snippet of text below the title.

All small tweaks which ought to enhance our search experience while we hardly notice it – but is your business website primed to take advantage of them? Having hours and menus appear in the search results could be a massive boon to your business, saving your customers the hassle of clicking around your site. Others will see the potential of the rich snippets feature.

If you’re not sure how to ensure your site will benefit from these – and the countless changes that Google makes every single month – there is a good case for coming to us. After all, it is our business to keep up with the latest search engine innovation, and we can pass that on to you.

Knols – an update

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Remember our post about Knols back in May ’09? You may be interested to hear that Google have introduced a suite of new tools to be used within the Knol publishing environment.

Now you can expand your Knol with calendars, maps, spreadsheets, high-quality images – whatever it takes to get your point across more elegantly. Our stance now is the same as it was in May – it’s not a marketing channel, but it can have some knock-on effects in terms of getting your name out there and your voice respected – and now, there are extra tools to help you do so.

Gates tweets

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

For someone at the forefront of technology, it might seem like a bit of a late move, but Bill Gates has joined Twitter (you can see his Twitterstream here).

Mind you, one can understand his reluctance: the social media platform creates a notoriously direct channel between users. When one of those users is a celebrity, then clearly that can create some difficult circumstances.

It’s this same directness that Gates is obviously hoping to tap into for good. He’s using the channel to promote new blog posts and initiatives from his charity foundation – in just the same way that any other charity or small business might.

Unlike the man in the street, though, he is going to be heavily scrutinised. Time will tell whether the undoubted benefits of Twitter as a medium will outweigh the fuss around his every tweet.

A case for the professional copywriter

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Barclays

I’ve been chuckling to myself ever since seeing this billboard outside Barclays Bank in Ladbroke Grove. Now, I know that with a bit of patience, you can understand it, but my, what a mishmash at first sight. “Were”, it begins, putting your mind on totally the wrong track, and then, dispensing with punctuation all together, it crams in a few further thoughts.

The funny thing is, you’d expect Barclays, that most renowned of banks, to be more careful about its professional image. Well, clearly, somewhere between the copywriter and the builders, the message got lost. Builders aren’t renowned for their grammatical pedantry – well, why should they be? They concentrate on the building.

To those who care about such things as apostrophes and grammar, however, it will effect a small erosion of the brand’s image. It’s worth a thought. As a small business owner, you yourself might be quite comfortable with the thought that your signage – and indeed your website – contains a few prime examples of the so-called “grocer’s apostrophe”.

Your customers may well care, though. And if they do, they may go to your more professional-seeming competitor who happens to have all his commas in the right place. If you care about your brand image, you need to care about grammar. And if, being, perhaps, a builder, or a grocer, or from some other trade where you certainly know what you’re doing, but copywriting isn’t part of the required skillset, that means you need to employ a professional copywriter.

Our copywriters wouldn’t necessarily know how to erect a billboard or choose a prime cabbage, but they certainly know how to polish your prose for you.

Near Me Now: is your business ready?

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

We’ve written before about the benefits of making sure your small business is represented on Google maps – especially if local trade is important to your income. Now, Google takes one step further with its Near Me Now function. Initially launched in the US, it’s bound to come to the UK shortly. It’s just one more reason to ensure that your business is squarely positioned on Google Maps, since it is integration between Maps and Search that powers this new innovation. Get ready now, and you’ll be reaping the benefits when it is unrolled over here.

Not sure what to do? Give us a call – as with so many other online marketing tasks, we can do it in a jiffy.

Medium of the decade

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

The Times newspaper nominated Iranian student protester Neda Soltan as their Person of the Year on Boxing Day. Soltan died at a protest against a rigged election in Iran, shot by a government militiaman.

In a previous age, her death might have gone unnoticed by the wider world, but we live in modern times. Any outrage, large or small, need only capture the public’s imagination to spread around the net like wildfire. It is good to know that a medium used so frequently for the trivial – take, for example, the current protest against Amanda Holden as presenter of Crystal Maze – can also be used for monumentally important issues such as this.

It was largely via Twitter that a short film clip of Neda Soltan’s death travelled the world, affecting people as it did so, and opening our eyes to the political situation in Iran. Truly, the Internet unites us. There is not a regime in the world now who can rest assured that it can act unseen, for where there are mobile phones, there is also now the ability to speak to the world.

That is why, for good or bad, for the way it has added to the democratisation of debate, and for its accessibility to all people, we at Notting Hill Web Design nominate Twitter as the medium of the decade.

Colouring the customer experience

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

An American friend recently told me she wished she could find bright, vibrant housepaint colours like we have over here in the UK. That didn’t sound right to me: I’ve always thought you could find pretty much anything you like in the Land of the Free. A quick Google later, and I was able to tell her all about the Colour Capture application for iPhones.

Take a picture of anything that is the colour you’d like to match, and like a high-tech version of the Dulux service we are used to in our own paint shops, the app will display the paints available from the Ben Moore range which most closely match it. Even better, it will also advise you on compatible tones – and then it tells you, via the power of Google Maps, where your nearest stockist is.

It’s a great example of an app which is genuinely innovative and useful for the user – but which, at the same time, increases trade (and goodwill, no doubt). These are the apps that succeed. Forget novelties that are quickly forgotten. Create something this indispensible, and not only will you have a new stream of customers to your site, but you’ll create a buzz online and in print.

How to write a Help page – that is genuinely helpful

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

help-small

Now, we’re not going to name names here, but we recently came across a Help page on a website that began “Is funding available?”. The answer was no. “Are there any grants?” Again, no. We couldn’t help feeling that we’d stumbled across a curmudgeonly corner of the web.

The rest of the page was a kind of brain-dump of several links and pieces of information which, while unarguably useful to those who need it, was rather hard to wade through.

I can understand the approach. If the fact that this body does not provide funding or grants is the number one question they answer most often, and which wastes most of their time, of course they want to make that information prominent. Equally, it allows those who do need funding to spend only two seconds on the page before looking elsewhere for what they need.

But there are better ways to organise a Help page – ways that will enhance your business’ image as well as being genuinely useful to your users.

The first thing to do is to step outside the mindset of your own office. You already know everything about your product or business: of course you do. Unfortunately, the human brain is often ill-equipped to view things outside its own experience: if you know what all those acronyms stand for, it’s all too easy to assume that everyone does.

So, how best to find out what your users need to know? There are a few ways. You could check your site’s Search log for queries such as “meaning of xxx”, or even to find if folk continually search for a product you do not provide, or which is hard to find on your site. Search gives valuable clues to what your website does not make clear.

Then, speak to your response staff. Whether they are replying to emails or answering the phone, they are in daily contact with your customer and know best what they need.

Finally, it’s always worth conducting user testing. There are companies that will do this for you, and provide a report on what users found most perplexing. If that is too expensive, observing just a small sample of users attempting to conduct simple tasks on your website will teach you a lot.

Once you know what needs to be answered on your Help page, group your replies by topic and give them clear headings. If there is a lot of information, break it up and provide sub-navigation. Make sure the titles you give each section are genuinely helpful – and if you are not sure, user-test again. Finally, make sure that the pertinent Help results come up in a site search.

Help pages can be crucial to a website’s success: they can calm frustrated users, and act as an index for lazy surfers. They are worth putting a lot of time and effort into. On the other hand, they can also be seen as an admission of failure: a perfect site would not need one. The question is, how many of us can say we have the perfect site?!