After six years of blogging about digital marketing I've only ever fleetingly mentioned SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Obviously, it's an essential part of any website build and beyond and cannot be ignored. I think the main reason for not mentioning it is that I've always found it tough to reconcile myself with it morally. It's been this sort of necessary evil which I've had to begrudgingly spend time administering.

The reason for this is that in the old days the internet was a mass of weird publishing. Everybody was working out the rules and the etiquette. There weren't the billions of pages we have now so there were always those that could 'play the system' to appear higher in the search results.

Some of the underhand tactics that were used were things like putting white text in the background of a page. This meant search engines would see them but visitors could not thus pushing the website up the rankings. There was also the practice of 'keyword stuffing'. Keywords are words people were using to search for content – and keyword stuffing means putting them all over the page. This did not make for a good user experience as every other word being a keyword meant they barely made sense!

But then search engines got more intelligent. Google, for example is now looking to serve relevant content. If the content it links the visitor to is bad or irrelevant they'll find another, more reliable, search engine to use. Quite rightly Google has penalised any websites using these dark practices for some time now.

So why I have I finally found an interest in writing a post about SEO? It's because for me SEO has now evolved so much that it's not even about 'SEARCH ENGINE optimisation' anymore, but 'USER optimisation'. By putting the user's needs first SEO is no longer a trick that is deployed at the end of a process. It's now simply about publishing good content people like.

By writing in the same way that an audience searches (www.google.co.uk/trends/explore is a good tool for this) your website is more likely to be found. This also means that once it has been found the content is relevant to the search, and you haven't tricked someone to get them there.

You can add all the metadata and SEO tricks in the book. But not only will you have trouble in your conscience you'll also come second best to those with unique content. Writing unique content will prioritise pages on Google instead of mixing you up with your competitors. Spend your time on what your company can really offer and on showing how you differentiate. By doing this the chances are that other websites are more likely to link to you showing Google how trustworthy you are. 

Accessibility is as important to high rankings and I've recently been presenting a lot on this subject. I could write a separate post on this alone! Again, the approach is not to treat it as a tick box exercise but to make your content so inclusive it appeals to everyone. We are all capable of being distracted, in a rush or otherwise engaged. This means we may read a page in a way like those with dyslexia or who do not speak English as a first language. Bearing this in mind when writing makes it better for everybody and ultimately leads to a better website.

Recently we've been very excited to see our Shaping Your World website hit page one of Google for certain search terms. This is no accident as we've been careful to structure the content based on mental models. By making the journey clear as they navigate through the pages users get an idea of what to expect.

So my message is don't try to trick the system - it's not worth your time. Write to your audience. Write to what they want from you in the language they use, using a structure that is intuitive for them and you’ll get SEO as a freebie without even trying.
This has to have been the most tiring January I've ever experienced. The dark mornings, coupled with a regular battles with various family colds and viruses, means it feels to have lasted an age!

For me the only plus side of this has meant we've had, what feels like, a good amount of time on the discovery phase of our website project. Despite us having a strict budget and delivery timescale spending this time researching the scope of the project is essential.

Primarily this is to ensure we don't only focus on deliverables but objectives. In this modern business landscape our website needs to do so much more than just be a shiny online brochure. We require it to drive real business intelligence and goals. The more it can be used to either increase leads or conversions the more we do to earn our seat at the top table! It becomes an essential tool in driving the strategic goals of the business forward.

It's all about the users!
By spending time with our users we can ensure the site is built for their needs. This makes decision making much easier as it gives us the focus and context we need. So what is the best way to go about this?
  • Organisational structure - No-one can ever excel at work without an understanding of how their business is setup. Learn who the key stakeholders are early so you can bring them on board and speak to them 
  • Stakeholder interviews - Pick the brains of the CEO, managing directors and other senior staff on the vision and business KPIs. Customer services have knowledge about common queries/pain points and it’s fascinating to see the tools they have (or don’t have) at their disposal to help customers.
  • Internal document review - There can be a wealth of documentation present within the business's archives. Strategy documents, marketing documents (i.e. old brochures), roadmaps and objectives. Some of these will be useful, some not.
  • Existing research - We recently carried out some client perception research. This is a great resource to use to validate our findings against and gain extra insight.
  • Desk research - By looking at existing Google analytics data we can identify if there are any obvious drop offs in the journey. Looking at our social media channels also gives us a good steer alongside insights from industry whitepapers.
  • User research - This allows us to connect with the user and their needs. It offers so much more than we can get from our analytics and personas.
  • Contextual research - I've blogged before on the importance of getting out into the business. Without experiencing our service first hand it's almost impossible to draw any conclusions. 
  • Competitor analysis - This is in equal parts therapeutic and scary! Seeing what you deem as a below par competitor website can give you extra impetus to make yours even better. Similarly, noting how they have decided to articulate their business online gives you an idea of the role the website plays in their strategy.
In analysing this data it's essential the entire team is involved and full transparency is employed. You can then start to sketch out the service as you understand it from your various research.

Rather than feeling like a delay taking the time to map these tasks allows us as clients . In treating it like a separate project with clear deliverables we can try out the working relationship with the agency with minimum commitment. By involving some initial prototyping it gives us a great idea of where the chosen agency can take us.

All of this has taken place through a January fog of an extreme reluctance to get out of bed in the morning. This might in part be due to two domestic changes we've recently made in purchasing a Leesa mattress and switching energy supplier to Bulb. The latter meaning we've been more relaxed about keeping the heating on! I'd highly recommend both and Leesa also allow a 'discovery phase' of an 100 day money back trial...
As a follow on from my previous list post, on digital marketing trends for 2018, this post looks at some new digital marketing tools. There are A LOT of these out there so this is a concise list of some of my favourites. I've also included a few that I'm currently trialing which look promising. New tools like these open up new opportunities, offer new insights and inspire new tactics:

1. Ptengine

This is a great heatmap application to find out at exactly what point visitors choose to leave your site. By isolating that point you can then make the necessary changes to push them to the final step.

Given that we're planning a redesign for 2018 this is much more powerful than other heatmap tools. Rather than just a visualisation it shows referral information, social media campaign tracking and in depth engagement.

2. Linkkle

This new free to use tool lets you post a single link (aka your ‘linkkle’) that points to a link hub. Here you can add up to ten links to all your various social media accounts along with some basic profile info.

This is particularly useful if you’re active on a lot of accounts and want to keep things streamlined. At the moment it's in MVP (Minimum Viable Product) stage but is a really nice unfussy alternative to about.me.

3. ContentCal

We're currently trialling this as a way of planning and scheduling our social media posts. The feature I'm particularly impressed with is the workflow options. Once you’ve added your clients/users, and assigned an approval process, all you need to do it select the new content you’ve written and ‘send to approver’.

It also displays how the content will look across all platforms and you can setup whole campaigns in advance. So far, I've found that the simple UI inspires and motivates me to plan more content - a promising start!

4. Pocket

This has been by far my favourite offline reading app for a while now. To keep this blog going I need to do a lot of extra reading. In particular Pocket forces me to have fixed reading time and doesn't kill my productivity. Otherwise I'd get distracted by multiple articles without an easy way to read them later (and especially when I'm travelling).

I have the bookmarklet in my browser too so I can stay productive and save the best of the web in my 'pocket'!

5. Manychat

Chat bots are computer programs that mimic conversation with people using artificial intelligence. There are a lot of chatbot builders coming out every day. There may be better than this one but it’s the first one I started using and so far it's so easy to use! They have a visual drag`n`drop builder makes it easy and fun to setup your Facebook Messenger bot.

No programming required  -  just connect your Facebook page to ManyChat and you`ll be up in no time.

6. Screaming Frog

This was recently introduced to us by an external agency and is a really interesting looking tool. Essentially it's an SEO spider that crawls your entire site and is free for sites under 500 pages. This then gives a full breakdown of pages with 404 errors, missing meta descriptions or broken links.

The results it spits out are great considering it's so cheap and you can also export to Excel to make things easier to number crunch!

7. Answer the public

This one is great fun - just check out the landing page! This search query data visualisation tool fetches and maps keyword suggestions/predictions that you see when you perform a Google search. After entering a keyword you’ll be presented with questions, prepositions and alphabetical lists related to your query.

If you’re looking for ideas about content creation topics, this tool provides the cues you need to start thinking about particular subjects. It's also fascinating to see what people are searching for and can be exported to a variety of formats.

8. Marvel app

This is a rival website prototyping tool to InVision but for me it's the most fun to use. We utilised it for our Shaping Your World campaign and it excelled for both advanced UX designers and those simply looking to communicate high and low fidelity concepts.

If you're not into heavy collaborative projects, Marvel is the way to go. It's much less expensive and in my opinion it has better tools for prototyping. 

9. RubberHose 2

I'm by no means an expert in After Effects but this character rigging tool has been amazing in bringing our avatars to life for Shaping Your World. It's not expensive, it's fast and best of all it converts strokes in Illustrator in no time!

Animation of this type is all new to me where you add 'puppet pins' on your artwork to bring your characters to life.

10. WP Engine

Finally, we used this hosting solution for the above campaign and where I was originally a little hesitant due to the cost I'm now completely sold!

The load times are lightening quick and the reliability has been essential with the success we've been seeing. Now we've hit page one of Google for our search terms it's great to know we're in safe hands.

 So, there are some of the tools I'm playing with in early 2018. What are some of yours?
And so another year of blogging ends and begins! As this blog enters it's sixth year, I'll be looking at a few potential trends on which I'll be focusing on in 2018. I know there's lots of these lists kicking around this time of year so I've tried to keep mine as concise as possible:

1. Dark social

This deserves a post to itself - it's such a large subject. The difficulty of tracking shared links from messaging apps, privacy protected social networks or emails is well known. These all contain a colossal amount of information. But various privacy settings and the rights and concerns of users make them impossible to track through standard analytics platforms.

It has long been a conspiracy that social networks are listening to these conversations and selling that information to advertisers. I hope that this is not the case, but 2018 may finally be the year that they can no longer resist the temptation to delve into this data.

2. Authentic moments, not perfectly designed content

Of course, the aesthetic of a sleek, professional photo hasn't lost its appeal, but generic stock images don’t help brands showcase authenticity. As a result, consumers are seeking more authentic moments - particularly through newer untapped options like Instagram Stories.

These honest insights into how brands operate are best coming from people who have experienced the brand first hand. It means a lot more to see an authentic moment via an employee's personal account than a corporate account. Actually seeing how much people enjoy their job on a regular basis is so much more powerful.

3. Search is always evolving

Search is a very important traffic source for most websites. So, it's essential to keep an eye on how search is changing. Voice search has been around for a couple of years now, but there are two interesting recent developments. Devices such as the Google app or assistants like Amazon Echo tend to deliver longer-tail queries than text search. And there is no doubt the number of voice searches is likely to increase in 2018.

Secondly, Google recently announced Google Lens. This allows you to simply show your camera to an artwork/poster for Google to search for the text and images within it. If this gains traction it will truly be a game-changer for search.

4. Meaningful relationships with influencers matter

With consumers more focused on the reputation of the brands they use, it's more important than ever that marketers work with influencers that are appropriate for their brands (and not likely to be part of a PR disaster!)

Consumers are not interested in seeing a random celebrity promote a product; they want to see real leaders in your industry talking about your product or service to give it social value. New influencer platforms are sprouting up every day and can help take care of many of the time-consuming tasks, including finding relevant influencers and measuring success.

Maintaining close relationships with key industry influencers will be crucial for marketers to keep their followers’ attention in 2018. Spend time researching who your audience trusts and follows before reaching out to build a relationship with them.

5. Video

This might not feel like a very insightful trend to identify as video has been an important part of digital marketing for a number of years, but video will evolve in 2018. It will develop as a medium for content marketing and an advertising medium. There will also be more continued emphasis on live streaming as Facebook seems to be prioritising live video over other types of content.

In 2017, 90% of all content shared by social media users includes video. To make engaging videos that keep followers’ attention, marketers need to focus on the first three seconds, before the viewer keeps scrolling! Optimizing video content for viewing with sound on or off will also be important since most social networks/browsers automatically keep videos silent unless clicked. The experience should be good for all viewers, whether they listen or not.

In 2018, we should all be prepared to give our content a personal, authentic touch. We should also to take a more hands-off approach to social media by automating mundane tasks as much as possible.

I for one have a massive year ahead with the scale of the projects I will be tackling. I'll need all the tricks I can muster!
Some possibilities of modular design
This post is long overdue as I've been meaning to write it for ages! When I took on the task of rebuilding our company microsites, over two years ago, it was an easy decision to turn to Wordpress as the CMS. In particular I am a big fan of the Elegant Themes template Divi. This takes all of the complication out of a website build in that it is so malleable. So what is it about the way it uses 'modules' which made it really appeal to me as an innovative way to build and maintain our microsites?

As we all know content management systems allow website owners to manage content, sometimes tens of thousands of pages, via easy-to-use interfaces. This is primarily done by using reusable 'templates'. On average around 10 different templates for each website. However, these templates are just that - formulated structures that are ultimately not very flexible.

Divi has a massive selection of potential modules
In essence, Web content management systems don’t control content at all. They simply control webpages. It would make more sense to call them template management systems or page management as that's where the majority of the control exists.

Content can be a blog post, a collection of data in tabular format, a video, a graphic, or a list of items. It can be almost anything, yet existing CMS platforms are focused on making the content creator live within the mould of the system that has been created.

Templates are a prime example of that. They are rigid in behavior, making editing pages which need to do specific things difficult. It’s hard to move parts of a template around. If you do, it usually makes more sense to create an entirely new template. It’s also difficult to control what content populates a piece of a template, in a dynamic way. And because templates are so inflexible, the content stops being content. 

Traffic routes for modular buildings can prove a challenge!
So it's time to take back control and to move to a modular system! This was first introduced to me a few years ago via Divi and the concept is something which has been used for years in all types of manufacturing. For example, at Kier we have embraced modular building where 4,000-square foot houses are built elsewhere and bought in on trucks. Pretty much all manufacturing is based on this theory of reusable parts.

How does this theory benefit web design? By changing our perspective from the design and management of templates, to instead the design and management of pieces of content or design. I've heard them referred to as widgets, modules or building blocks and they can just slot together in countless different ways.

To build in WordPress using the Divi theme we now simply create a new page, select the column layout and then the types of content which appear in order. For example, we may want an image above some text or something more bespoke like a filterable portfolio or contact form. We can then edit them on the fly right from the page editor. If you want to reorder the modules just reposition them up or down on the page or move the columns. It’s easy.

To take this to the next level, true modular web design starts at the design stage if the CMS is flexible enough to handle it. During this process a developer cannot create modules based on a template as they do not understand what a marketer does and doesn’t need to accomplish. This needs to be a collaboration from the beginning.

I am a massive advocate of all websites being built this way. Templates are bloated, antiquated concepts. They have a large amount of dependencies between themselves. Modules are flexible and adaptable. An entire webpage should be a set of modules from top navigation down to the footer navigation. This massively aids iterative design as a methodology of constant improvement. It also makes the job of the web editor very easy.

Modular designs are cheaper and quicker to develop too. Even if you only have 5 modules built a new site can be launched with hundreds of page possibilities. Launching the site as a minimum viable product still means it can have a measure of uniqueness that a template driven site can’t achieve.

This is a massive topic and one I no doubt will revisit as we move into the redesign of our new company website. The future and possibilities of  modular web design are very exciting and extend far beyond our use of themes in our microsite provision. By building this methodology in from an early stage it solves many problems without being too complex a concept or too complicated to manage.
We won! On our third attempt at bringing home the coveted Construction Marketing Award we collected it in true style at the biggest ceremony yet. In all honesty if we didn't win for our 'Shaping Your World' campaign then we never would have won!

Being awarded the 'Best Contractor Marketing Campaign' is testament to almost a year's worth of work. We have lived and breathed this for so long (with all of the various complexities) that now seeing how well received it has been, in the business and beyond, is amazing. I've already had over 100 likes and comments on my LinkedIn post announcing our win - and we're still only at the beginning of something we intend to keep growing. Delivering something of this scale required work from all disciplines - marketing, PR and internal communications so we can all be equally proud of this achievement.

The judges comments on the campaign were:

"A great project, focused on a really urgent challenge for the industry. Initial response looks very encouraging. Creative and innovative, a great campaign, well executed".

That's why we got to take home the trophy and giant foam hand...

As the six of us made our way up to London for the ceremony spirits were high. After finally settling on our outfits (I had a tough decision to make between black tie and black BOW tie - it's not easy being a man) we headed to the Radisson Blu in Portman Square.

Kerry Godliman
Comedian Kerry Godliman compered the evening where we were one of the only contractors in attendance. This didn't matter though - we were shortlisted in the 'Contractor' category after all! It can be a lot of work writing these awards submissions but the value of them cannot be underestimated. For one it's a celebration of the team's hard work in getting us there so it was up to us to enjoy it! It also helps spread the reach of our campaign further and, as I've already seen on LinkedIn, works as an impetus to get some genuine employee advocacy on social media.

Personally, I found the process of writing the submission was a lot of work but allowed me to distill down the main elements - thus helping me to concisely sell it in to clients and colleagues. Compiling all of the analytics meant I could also use these for reporting internally. With so many metrics the important part is focusing on which best prove success and teach us the lessons of how to enhance it yet further. 

Shaping Your World hits the big screen
Whilst I have continued to win personal awards (mainly for this blog!) I am very pleased to finally have one for the work delivered by the team. I feel that with this award I have now fully transitioned to the B2B private sector. At times this has been pretty challenging as getting to grips with a business this size is no mean feat! However, without excellent knowledge of the business no marketer can get anywhere close to succeeding. The changing nature of all business means that this is an never ending job but it definitely stops boredom setting in.

This also helps enthuse and excite about the scale of what is being done. By caring and admiring the work delivered it's a much easier job to sell it - and we are all salespeople whether we like it or not. 

There is no wind-down for Christmas for our team as we host our annual client drinks at the Imperial War Museum back in London tonight. Kier deliver all of the facilities management to the IWM so it's a very apt venue. My role has mainly been around the creative elements of the invitations and how we continue to promote 'Shaping Your World' to all audiences. With an award in my pocket and a giant foam hand this will be much easier than it would have been this time last week!
Taking to the stage in Cambridge
For someone who constantly craves time at my desk to tackle my 'to do' list this blog contains a lot of tales of my travels! So, this week I've been out and about continuing to promote our latest campaign 'Shaping Your World'.

With the amount of work it took to get us to this point the fact that's it's grown legs around the business, and beyond, has been very satisfying. One of the main strategic goals of our central marketing function is to provide integrated campaigns that the entire business can utilise. With 21,000 colleagues across four divisions this is no mean feat and required months of planning. But we have already proven that this adds value not only to winning work but also to existing contracts.

I was the only non-Anglian Water van in the car park!
This is why I spent two mornings this week presenting to 400+ colleagues on the Anglian Water contract. This is a big one for the utilities business with the challenge being that Kier employees are so embedded with the client they sometimes hear more from them than their actual employer. By hosting a two day event (at the Hallmark hotel in Cambridge) it allows them time off work to hear about our latest benefits and initiatives.

Given that I have presented on this topic, to different audiences, on many occasions it was still a challenge to fit it all into 15-20 mins. Especially as I was all that stood between the audience and their lunch! However, it was really well received and started the conversation with many colleagues volunteering to be Kier Ambassadors.

Go team!
My second trip out this week was definitely for a much larger audience as we took 'Shaping Your World' to the World Skills Show. This is a first for us on this scale being held at the Birmingham NEC over three days. The amount of preparation to get us there was immense with all of us working until the final hours on stand designs, t-shirts, freebies and staff rotas.

I had oversight of the technical elements of our stand in the build up. We asked visitors to complete our avatar quiz in order to receive a personalised notebook. All they had to do was enter their name and have a printout of their avatar affixed to the front!

It was great seeing our target audience
interacting with our Virtual World Plaques
I managed the team on the Friday so arrived bright and early to get setup and deliver the briefing. We had helpers from all areas of Kier, from graduate to director level, and they were amazing at speaking to visitors about the opportunities in the built environment. Whilst it started quite slow the coach loads of school children all descended on us around 11am with swarms of them invading our stand! In fact, the personalised notebooks were so popular that we could barely keep up with demand!

Design-wise our stand did definitely look the busiest but in some ways this worked in our favour. It stood out from the crowd by presenting a traditional career in a modern way. It wasn't just school children who approached us as we spoke to teachers, parents, the cabinet office and even the girl guides.

After three days of this there's no doubt that our campaign has now been bought to the masses and it's my job to ensure that this is measured. Whether it be avatars built, or jobs searched, I'll now be crunching numbers to prove this activity was worth our time and investment.
The favourite bit for me is seeing how well 'Shaping Your World' is received by all audiences. In particular the target audience of 11-15 year olds loved the avatars and their notebooks had them grinning all the way back to their coaches.

The next possible step for this campaign is our shortlisted entry at the Construction Marketing Awards. Win or lose I'll be covering the further adventures of my, now vintage, Matalan dinner suit in my next blog post...
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