Am I the only person who gets a Wix advert every time I try to watch a YouTube video? Or a Squarespace advert every time I listen to a podcast? I guess I've been identified as a potential buyer for these services! The ability to publish a website as quickly and easily as possible is big business.

These are the two main competitors to get you up and running fast and the results are actually pretty good. They look nice (if a bit generic) and are very easy to manage. And if you want anything a bit more powerful then there are plenty of Content Management Systems (CMS) to choose from too. But it wasn’t always this way.

The web started out as a mostly static affair. Plain old HTML was, and still is, the basis of a site. But back in the day, the ability to dynamically generate content wasn’t widely available to the average designer.

When my career got started in 1990s, every site I built was static. Granted, I didn’t know a whole lot at the time. Thus, so many of my projects became unwieldy nightmares when it came to maintenance. The task of, say, adding a new item to a navigation bar meant hacking my way through potentially hundreds of HTML files – depending on the size of the website. I even foolishly experimented with a Flash navigation for one website!

But recently I've returned to hand coding an HTML site for reasons took complicated to explain here. And this has got me thinking.

For years, I’ve dismissed static HTML as outdated and no longer useful in most situations. But maybe this dismissal may have been a bit unfair. Sure, those old school sites I worked on were a cause of major frustration when changes needed to be made. But does that mean static HTML no longer has a place on the web?

Part of the problem with using static HTML, for me at least, was the fact that it was forced into duties it should have never had in the first place. The intended use for HTML was as a markup language – not as a means to manage complex arrangements of files. But for websites built on a small budget, it was the best tool we had at the time.

Remember using nested tables to hack your way through a page layout? Through no fault of its own, HTML became a whipping boy for how not to do things.

I now realise that static HTML sites can still have a place on the web. This does depend on both the needs of your project and your skills as a developer. But, generally speaking, there might be some benefits:
  1. Full-On CMS Functionality Isn’t Needed - Sites needing regular updates (like this blog) probably won't work outside of a CMS. But “brochure” style sites, for example, could be a perfect fit
  2. Increased security - Static websites are almost completely safe compared with dynamic ones. This is because they don’t rely on CMS plugins or dynamic software
  3. No software updates - As above, 70% of WordPress sites are at risk of getting hacked by malicious hackers because of lack of maintenance and upgrading. Scary!
  4. Better reliability and speed - The absence of a middleman/database makes the static site much more speedy and easy to load 
  5. Hosting and Price - Static websites have basic HTML files which require less space making the hosting of these websites cheaper than that of dynamic websites 
Just because this is an old fashioned way to build sites it doesn't mean it should be discounted. By looking back into history we may actually find a more suitable way of doing things!
I am a genius. At least, in the past, that's how I've been introduced to new colleagues at work. "This is Paul, he's our digital guru".

But, of course, I'm not. In fact I'm in no way approaching genius status. But despite knowing this when I first heard it I still felt flattered as it played to my ego. After all, I have always been motivated by being as useful as possible to my team. I thrived on knowing little tricks to get the job done quicker or by having the ability to devise a technical solution faster than anyone else.

Of course, if I let being spoken about like this go to my head, whatever modicum of talent I do have will be squandered. I need to feel I have so much still to learn to motivate me on to do better. After all, my name (Paul) literally means 'small' or 'humble'. A sobering reminder to never let my ego get the better of me.

Nowadays I cringe when introduced as a 'Guru' or 'Ninja', because it undermines my process.

“Guru” implies that I can single-handedly solve every digital challenge. It implies that alone I have the power to make their problems go away. But this is too much expectation for anyone to handle.

Calling me a guru implies that I am superior to everyone else in the room, and have an especially privileged place on the team. It also works as a method to deflect any difficult questions to me as Mr. Fix it. "Go to Paul if you have any technical questions". "Paul knows the difference between all of the file types so I don't have to". "If the photocopier is broken go to Paul, he has 'digital' in his job title".

All this means it's harder for me to do my job. I get interrupted the most as the pressure is on me to fix people's problems when the CMS doesn't behave. I'm called on to decode technical jargon used by agencies. All I need is a few of these and suddenly the pressure of my own deadlines are doubled. So how should I address it?

Well firstly, it's good manners to accept compliments. Protesting too much would only serve to reinforce that I do indeed have this image of myself. If I do seem in any way seem like an expert in anything it will be due to a combination of gifts naturally given and hard work. It's worth reminding people what it takes to progress by describing earlier efforts and learning experiences.

Emphasising the activity is important to remind people that you are overseeing a process. By going through the sequence of activities to deliver a project it shows where you will be relying on them to provide input.

Realising and acknowledging when you should plead ignorance is important. Whilst your subject knowledge may be strong, perhaps your knowledge of the project or business is not. I frequently need to tell myself that staying quiet in meetings can be a lot more useful than striving to drive the conversation and find solutions.

If your work is anything like mine, you work on difficult problems. I frequently am called on to decipher jargon and act as a liaison with the technical details. Perhaps I get called a genius so that people can hide that they don’t understand what’s going on. You don’t have to call anyone out, and highlighting that this is difficult work can go a long way to set the right tone. “We’re learning as we go, so ask a lot of questions. I know I will!”

A luxury I never seem to have is time. But it's vital when working on complicated stuff not to rush things. Take time to explain everything. Externalise your thought process and show your work. Rather than scheduling one long review meeting each week, have shorter conversations more frequently.

I try to frequently remind myself that I'm very favoured to have a job that really interests me. Whilst the ability to keep going is down to our natural gifts it's important to keep a boundless appetite for learning. We all make some good decisions and learn from the not-so-good ones.
Seeing how my children are taught now at primary school definitely makes me question the quality of my own education! This week they bought home their school reports which my wife and I were very impressed with. Not just behaviorally but also with regards to how their academic progress is being monitored. For every subject they have a complex set of targets and objectives that they are already expected to be hitting. It was particularly interesting to read these in the context of my own performance review this week!

Recently, whilst chatting to my eldest, she took a liking to a word which I used in our conversation and asked "Can I 'magpie' that?" This wasn't a phrase I'd heard used before? Essentially it means stealing a word from somewhere else to enhance her writing. When the class hear or read a word that appeals to them they tell the teacher who adds it to the 'magpie words' board. With the whole class doing the same it means there's always a fresh display of words to 'magpie' into their own writing.

This is an interesting way to encourage taking the best ideas from a variety of sources to pull together and create something new. It also enhances the poor reputation of the magpie who, despite their dashing looks and mischievous demeanour, are often seen as the dandy highwayman of British birds. There's a reason they're currently a winner in the bird race. Numbers are up, and from having been persecuted in Victorian times, they are now a common sight in our gardens, cities and on busy roads.

So what's the lesson here for digital? Well, for me it's about being always inquisitive and able to pull together to collect and share the best ideas. This is particularly demonstrated when working client-side with agencies. I've seen lots of examples of in-house marketing teams sticking with a good agency and continuing to innovate and progress together. When done well this suits both parties.

However, I've also seen examples of where agencies on retainers impress in the initial pitch but then get increasingly lazy once they're not challenged. New ideas dry up or are only shared with the more reckless clients who are willing to take risks. This client and agency dynamic is like the common sight of a magpie on the M25. Having spotted a bit of roadkill, they hop and fuss about it, pecking away, whilst certain death is only a couple of feet away. A high risk strategy indeed but with excellent potential ROI!

This ability to 'magpie' has been a particularly useful technique for me is when working on larger projects. I am yet to find an agency that offers the total package. Some 'full-service agencies' excel at strategy and stakeholder management, some at design, and some at just getting the final product over the line. It's definitely time consuming but for me the ability to identify the best attributes of each, and fuse them together, is very important. The knowledge transfer it requires helps bring fresh thinking to the internal team and the end product. I certainly learn more working with a number of individuals with different skill sets and project management techniques than being stuck with just one way of doing things.

This is why for our website project we split it into three distinct work streams - Discovery, design and development. So that we could pull on the best agency skill set for each. Our team project room (or 'war room') has walls covered in design ideas, examples of copy and imagery we like and anything else we've gained from our agency discussions (and beyond) to help enhance what we eventually deliver.

Essentially it's about always learning from external sources and sharing ideas with a close-knit team who look out for each other in the way magpies do. As an extreme example of their high risk lifestyle they sometimes even hold 'funerals' for a dead companion. If a bird is killed on the road, one will start to squawk, attracting more magpies, and some of them will actually lay blades of grass next to the body, stand quietly as if 'paying their respects', then fly off.

If we don't hit the pre-agreed deadline I have no doubt that this would be something we would do for each other given what we have been through to get this far!
By now I'm a bit of a veteran at awards events. I started getting shortlisted for them ten years ago and have bought home sixteen individual trophies. That's a lot of wear for the trusty old dinner suit (although this only equates to 16+ x 3 hour stints!)

With a few exceptions, these have been industry specific awards for websites, social media and digital strategy. In fact, only when I have won for this blog has it been against those in different sectors to myself.

The success we saw for our 'Shaping Your World' campaign late last year spurred us on to look at mixing it up with the big boys! We felt it was time to put together some impressive entries to evidence our credentials at the CIPR Excellence Awards 2018. Now in their 34th consecutive year, these are the PR industry's most prestigious celebration of creativity and professionalism.

We spent a lot of time deliberating over which categories to enter. 'Best Construction, Property or Infrastructure Campaign' seemed an easy fit but we also liked the look of the new category for 2018 'Best Use of Content'.

Given that we're a small in house team it took a while to compile these submissions. We needed all our skills from writing, to data analysis, to design. After entering we watched the shortlist announcement closely and were extremely excited to have been listed for both. What followed was two panel interviews to complete a rigorous selection process. It's a good job we didn't have to feign any enthusiasm - and being involved in every aspect of the campaign meant we could also answer every question...

The second of our trips to the stage
So, last Wednesday, we headed into London (with no help from the recently 'revised' train timetable) to attend the ceremony. This was held at the The Artillery Garden at the HAC. A very impressive venue indeed with a funfair, drinks reception, photo booth, candy floss machine and unlimited pick and mix. The night had started well!

We took our seats and started biting our nails in anticipation. The upbeat atmosphere was enough to keep us entertained until our categories were announced. And then we won. In BOTH categories for which we were shortlisted! The only drawback was that we were immediately thrust into the limelight (literally) to be video interviewed. After two hours in a darkened room it's quite disconcerting to suddenly have a camera light shined into your face!
Of course, this was an absolutely brilliant night of celebration and the culmination of nine months of intense work in getting 'Shaping Your World' launched.

Proud winners
This campaign, as I've mentioned before, was so complex to devise and put in place. We continue to hold regular meetings to assess where we can grow it further and to assess performance. The key element to it's success is the collaboration we've had across the business and beyond. There have been so many positive client conversations that I've lost count! Also, seeing the amount of times it pops up on social media at a school careers fair means we owe a debt to colleagues in continuing to spread the word.

Being awarded best in class against our peers gives us fresh impetus to bring them on board to share the campaign far and wide. Only by working together can we make this a bigger success outside of the world of awards nights. There's a reason it wasn't heavily branded as Kier at the beginning!

With every day at work being an unrelenting amount of work on our new website it's nice to take some time to focus on what we have delivered. Receiving our two shiny trophies definitely helps give me the fresh energy to see our latest project over the line.
Having a massive project to deliver in record time certainly tests my blogging discipline! Managing multiple web agencies to deliver a new corporate website, combined with an ambitious home extension project, means I have little room in my life (and brain) for much else.

So it's a good job that we're only delivering an Minimum Viable Product (MVP) on website launch. That should make the pre-launch much less intense right? Well, only if we're clear about what this actually means...

When done properly a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a great way of building user-centric digital services in a fraction of the time. The idea is to get something basic to market (i.e the shell of a website) as soon as possible and to start testing. You can then use all of the feedback gathered to continue to develop it long into the future.

The classic analogy here is that of a skateboard as a precursor to a Ferrari. It's basic but perfectly usable and It lowers the cost of development because you only build what people will use. The ultimate goal being that this leads to a more desirable product because it gives people exactly what they need. As developers we don’t end up paying for features that just clutter the experience.

But the danger when commissioning an MVP is that despite saying this is what we want what we actually expect is a fully blown, fully featured, PHAT website. Essentially we're only calling it an MVP because we're trying to get it developed in the shortest possible time at a low-cost.

Our users will NOT be happy with a skateboard while expecting Customer Experience provided by a red Italian convertible.

"Perhaps a better term is Minimum Lovable Product. A bicycle is a lovable and useful product for somebody with no better means of transport, but is still very far from the motorcycle that it will evolve into" - Henrik Kniberg in “How Spotify builds products

Users have to love it but time-to-market or time-to-value have to also be short. And of course our MVP has to be cheap. Can it be done? Can we develop a great quality product in a very short time at a low budget?

This is not an easy ask and those familiar with the project management triangle will know that something has to give. This pits time, cost and scope against each other and states that you have to pick two of the three. So what do we sacrifice? Buy ourselves more time? Increase the cost? Or reduce the scope?

So this brings this post up to date as to where we're at with our MVP website project. Negotiating our project scope to optimize product budget, timeline and quality. Of course, this requires a lot of heated discussion and healthy debate. But so has every successful project I've ever worked on! MVP is just the first milestone of the long journey.

Whilst on the subject of successful projects, we spent this Wednesday evening at the Drum Marketing Awards in London. This was the to be the first appearance of our 'Shaping Your World' campaign on such a grand stage. Whilst I had attended the CIM awards a few years ago just being shortlisted in the same category as Spotify and Dropbox was a massive achievement for us.

This meant I was even more nervous than usual and even though we didn't bring home the trophy I found it a great networking opportunity. We were sat next to the fellow marketers from LADbible and the BBC and made sure we gave each other lots of support.

This won't be the last high-profile event where we'll be representing either with lots on the horizon. Before we can draw breath we'll be off to the CIPR Excellence awards this Wednesday. Time for me to up my sleep game and start getting to bed at a reasonable hour in preparation...
Since publishing my last post on content strategy I saw this great opinion piece in The Drum. It argues that 'content' as a term is actually absurdly vague. It's use in a digital context is originated by website programmers as a term to describe the stuff that wasn't code.

As a quick shorthand term it has now snowballed and is used for pretty much everything we produce. Recording a video is content, taking a photo is content and even writing an email is content. I wholly agree with this argument that content as a term is far too generic and doesn't suggest that it is much fun to create let alone consume. Who wants to read some 'content' to their child at bedtime?!

When I used to work in a library I remember it being re-branded the Learning Resource Centre (LRC). This was to denote that it held more than books but it didn't stop everyone still calling it the library, as that's what it was...

It always works better when we call things what the actually are. It's time to start being specific again and talking about 'website copy', 'social media infographics' or 'short videos'. Content as a term does not do justice to the effort that goes in to creating the copy and imagery required for a new website. I wonder if I'll be brave enough to address this point at the 'Content Strategy Masterclass' which I'll be attending this week at the Design Museum?!

This argument opens up some other big issues for me with the jargon used in digital marketing. Most industries have people who look to impress by using the latest pretentious jargon - and if it doesn't exist already then they invent it! I've seen lots of examples at work of people using jargon or acronyms to try to look intellectually superior to others. There is no shame at all in asking what an acronym means.

The worst, and most prevalent, buzz phrase for me is 'thought leadership'. It's also become too broad a brushstroke for people who share their thoughts about trends and breakthroughs in their field, with a view to position themselves as authorities on a subject. It seems that many people are striving to be 'thought leaders' when only a handful of people on the planet can truly claim to have completely original ideas. After all there's a very good argument that original ideas and thought are a thing of the past and everything is a remix anyway.

In writing this blog the most I would say about myself is that I am a committed custodian of ideas, innovation, thinking and sharing. Even that sounds a bit like overstating it when I'm just trying to honestly share some anecdotes and real-life experiences from working in digital.

In my job I frequently switch between either an unhealthy overwhelming self belief or the feeling that I'm an impostor who is going to get found out! There's a chance the latter is true but the self-respecting part of me wants to challenge that notion.

As with most of us, when I get stuck on a task or am looking for recommendations for tools/resources/strategies/solutions, I often ask my network for help. This usually works and I get lots of really useful help but some come with the disappointing prefix of one word 'Just...'

Just use this software/platform/toolkit/methodology…”

“Just” makes me feel like an imposter. “Just” presumes I come from a specific background, studied certain courses in university, am fluent in certain technologies, and have read all the right books, articles, and resources. “Just” is a dangerous word.

My wife regularly uses it when explaining her profession - 'I'm just a stay at home Mum'. I tell her off for this all the time as it massively underplays the work she does. She works longer hours and a lot harder than me!

The amount of available knowledge in our field (or any field really) is growing larger and more complex all the time. That everyone has accessed the same fundamental knowledge on any topic is becoming less and less probable. We have to be careful not to make too many assumptions and undermine people who have a real willingness to learn. There are some great resources out there to help.
Every marketer talks about the importance of content. I believe that it's the most important (and hardest) part of any project. But what does good content look like and how is it generated?

As we're now deep into the development of our new website I thought I'd share the method we've been using for business orientated outcomes. The main aim, as always, is to be as useful as possible to any future visitor.

By using the core content model (devised by someone far cleverer than me and introduced to us by our web agency) we begin by auditing the content we have. This involves cross referencing our top 20% search engine ranked pages with our top 20% visited pages. By doing this we identify what content we need to keep before rewriting it.

We pick out the keywords for each of these pages which we need to keep for SEO purposes being sure to keep the user in mind at all times. For example, visitors to our 'About Us' page will have clear questions in mind such as 'Can I work with these people?' 'Why are they better than the last 5 companies I've looked at?' By answering these user questions in a conversational (i.e. no jargon) way it's much easier to show the personality of our brand. We've even tried recorded interviews with colleagues answering these questions to ensure the writing style is more personable.

Next we need to involve our editorial council to generate the new content. To do this we've created a helpsheet which identifies the cores. Each representative of the business first lists their 'Business Goals' and 'User Tasks' for their proposed page. For example, these could be 'To help increase knowledge of BIM' and 'To see projects utilising BIM'.

An example of our new content template
Then we ask them to plan the inward paths to this page (i.e. how will users find it). These could be 'By Googling BIM' or 'By clicking on a homepage link'.

After this they need to determine the core content. To do this they need to think about what content is needed for the user to achieve their goals. The format of this can be defined as anything from either text, video, an infographic or a quiz.

Finally, they need to set the forward paths - where does the visitor go next? This could be either looking at other modern building techniques or getting in touch to find out more.

By looking at everything in tandem with a well researched list of keywords, and in the context of tasks, all content will be written with the user in mind. It also means that editors are forced to think about the real business case for everything that is published on the website. This process ensures nothing is published on a whim but that the purpose of each webpage is clearly documented.

We've started using the excellent tool 'Gather Content' to collect what we need from the business in the correct format. We can set module types for consistency along with character and word limits. Editors fill in the form and it is all ready to populate the CMS via the existing integrations. I've found tools like this (which allow us to work on project tasks in tandem) are essential when on a tight schedule!

Whilst I'm on the subject of content I spent last Friday at interviews for the CIPR Excellence Awards where our Shaping Your World campaign is shortlisted for 'Best Use of Content'. This was a great experience and we discover if we've won for either this or Best B2B Campaign (for which we're also shortlisted) on 6th June.

We've also achieved another ambition by being shortlisted for the Best Integrated B2B Campaign at the Drum Marketing Awards. This is for the same campaign and is a massive achievement given we're up against companies list Spotify and Dropbox! The awards for this are the previous Wednesday, 30th May, so it should be a great fortnight of celebrations.
Something is wrong with social media. It's been widely publicised this week that the backlash is in full swing. This ongoing debate is not going to go away any time soon. I'm sure we've all experienced that world weary feeling whilst scrolling through our newfeed. For many of us it may be increasingly attractive to not engage at all. I try to limit most of my social use for professional purposes. But this means I am still complicit despite my Facebook account being a neglected place with no real reason to even exist.

One of my main proactive interventions is a refusal to let my children watch YouTube videos unsupervised. My fear being that they're just one 'recommended video' away from something potentially harmful.

The new Samsung Galaxy J2 Pro
This weekend Samsung announced their new J2 Pro Smartphone. It's main feature is that mobile data is totally blocked, including 3G and Wi-Fi. This device is being targeted at students who don't want to worry about data charges and need to focus on their studies. It's definitely an attractive option for me as my eldest approaches secondary school age!

For over 10 years people have shared the most intimate parts of their digital life. It is only now that they acknowledge feeding profit-maximizing surveillance machines. But Facebook can’t stop monetizing this personal data for the same reason that Costa can’t stop selling coffee - it’s the heart of their enterprise.

So why has it taken this long for people to get smart to this? For me the main reason is that people didn't want to hear it. The benefits were too alluring, enjoyable and empowering. A large proportion of the population are dealing with an addiction. So as with all addictive substances people become self destructive and continue regardless.

The instant gratification of social media use is prioritised over finding ways to make it less intrusive and exploitative. Recently we've seen many governments and organisations attempting to control this through policy. The cookie law was a distant failed attempt to be more responsible about data collection. I remember the panic we had to get this implemented on an old website! And now we have GDPR on the horizon <groan...>

But these efforts don’t touch the underlying problems, and in fact could make it harder for start-ups to compete with large corporates.

To really change the way the social media works the most effective route would be to take a genuinely moralistic outlook. If the moral compass of each organisation was clearly defined from the outset it would help prevent illicit behaviour. The argument being that in a cut-throat world you must join them in order to beat them. 

What starts out as a campaign to increase sales can soon take a dark turn as more aggressive methods are employed. We've all seen tactics such as re-targeting, click bait or the massaging of analytics data being employed. If all companies, and individuals, begin with a clear manifesto to control and define their behaviour these practices would cease. 

The original dream of social media was to produce healthy discussions, to unlock new forms of creativity, and to connect people to others with similar interests. This still happens in many circles and needs to be championed. 
Spring has sprung!

Social networks could, for example, give their users an automatic 'self-cleaning' option. This which would regularly clear their profiles of apps they no longer used, friends and followers they no longer interacted with, and data they no longer needed to store. If these tools were enabled, users would need to take action if they didn’t want their information to disappear after a certain number period. 

This would mean social graphs are temporary, rather than preserving them forever by default. It would undoubtedly be bad for most social networks’ business models. But it could create new and healthy norms around privacy and data hygiene, and it would keep problems from piling up as networks get older and more crowded. It might even recapture some of the magic of the original social networks, when things were fresh and fascinating, and not quite so scary. 

The subtitle of this blog has always been 'Digital Marketing with Morals'. This is something I constantly strive for despite often falling sadly short.
The most important way to run a new website project is to engage directly with end users and the goals of the business. By talking to people in person the insight gained is invaluable. However, this can definitely be complimented by a decent amount of desk research.

Over the last few weeks we've been pulling together all the data sources at our disposal to get a full picture of our current users. We also have a lot of extra information around key clients and opportunities in our increasingly powerful CRM (Customer Relationship Management).

Social media

One task which we're looking at is an overview of our current social media channels. This isn't a full review of their effectiveness to define the strategy, but more taking stock of where we currently are. After all, I have to have a project to keep me busy once the website is live! I'm looking at:
  • The most shared content from us and our competitors
  • Phraseology to determine discipline around industry language
  • Positive and negative sentiment to inform the content strategy and customer service focus 
This will give us a good insight into how our current channels and the terminology used on the website will work together.

Existing site map

It's important to have this logged before work begins! A nice free tool for doing this to GlooMaps. It has all the sharing and export options you could possibly need and is really user friendly.

Contact us form

Our current form pipes queries through to the relevant part of the business based on the enquiry type. This means we can export a full report of all submissions from 2017-18. By mapping them to different parts of the business we can identify how this important section will take shape on the new website.

Internal search terms

We're pulling together a years' worth of search terms and am organising them by key themes. For example, those related to job searches. This informs the weighting of content for the new site and identifies specific times when certain content is more popular for the content strategy.

Referral terms

For this we're using SEMRush which is an extremely powerful SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) suite. This allows us to determine how users have found our website and the terms used. Rather than using Google Analytics data it has the added bonus of giving us a comparative positioning map. This identifies competitors and shows the strengths and weaknesses of their domains' presence in organic search results.

Branded traffic

SEMrush's split of branded vs. unbranded traffic is a really interesting metric for us. It identifies the 'best in class' competitor websites who have traffic we could gain by increasing our own ranking for non-branded keywords.

Keyword opportunities

Whilst SEMrush has a massive amount of data on the opportunities available we've been complimenting this with WordStream. Their free keyword tool shows search volume, competition and opportunity score. Structural/civil engineer have been identified as some of the terms we need to definitely rank for in the future!

Business insight

The challenge here is to first decide on what will be useful to inform the content strategy. To begin, We're identifying key clients by region and looking at separate HR job search data. CRM is essential in showing us how we currently map sectors and for identifying the stages of our current bid processes.

These are just some of the ways we're pulling together our current data. The key is ensuring everything we have gives us actionable insight. Ultimately, we want an informed content strategy for our new website which puts the user's needs first.

I'm already learning so much about the business, our online community and our competitors. This should mean that maintaining the website becomes a much easier, more strategic task post launch!
Our physical Pinterest board
It's been a week of getting away from our desks and spending our time sticking things on walls!

One discussion point, which came up at a recent team meeting, was the importance of sharing best practice internally. Whether it be in person, on email or via Yammer all of us in Marcomms have something to share with each other. So, to take this a step further, I took it upon myself to create a real-life Pinterest board next to my desk!

After a little bit of whiteboard pen calligraphy it was good to go (I may have spent too long on this bit!) The idea is that the team can now pin up any great examples of Marketing, PR and Internal Communications that inspire them. It's already looking great, and has become an office talking point, with loads of fun contributions from the whole team.

On a more serious note, and to begin the discovery phase of our new website, this week I ran an away day in Solihull with colleagues from Kier construction.

The objectives for this session were to gather true internal business insight. We wanted to look at how we win and retain business and 'our perception of how we are perceived' by clients. This exercise will of course be mandated by taking the opposite approach from the outside in (i.e from a client's point of view). But by starting with our people it eased us in to collecting a great deal of useful data.

As our construction business operates very regionally we expected a nuanced view from all involved. For example, some are working on very different types of job depending on the geography. 

Representatives from each of these 7 regions were given different coloured post it notes to differentiate them. We then asked them to write on separate notes the sectors in which they operate (i.e. education). They then placed these on the wall in two separate columns labeled as 'maintain' or 'grow'. The instruction was to place them lower on the wall if the opportunity was less and higher if it was more. So if there is a low ambition to grow in that sector it should be nearer the bottom. Similarly, a high ambition to maintain in a sector means the note should be nearer the top of that column.

This allowed us to see the synergies between the targets of different regions at a glance. It also gave us an idea of how they classify each client for whom they build. We ensured we took lots of photos throughout the day so we could write up the notes later.

The next step was to create new columns on the wall for each individual sector (x-axis). For each of these we then created sub headings horizontally (y-axis). These included key clients, capabilities, unique selling points and keywords. By working through each one individually we compiled a powerful list to inform the weighting of our web content. I think that without running a 'post it notes on the wall' exercise like this you can't say you're a proper digital marketer! Perhaps I took my passion for Trello a bit far by recreating it in real life...

To finish I gave a short presentation on our current Google ranking for certain keywords versus our competitors. This highlighted missed opportunities and showed how we will use all the data we just collected.

Days like this are essential to gain a real understanding of the business. Whilst it will be the first of many it energised me into looking at this project from the point of view of how the business thinks and talks. Most importantly it will give our website users what they want in terms of the content weighting and language.

In my next post I'll discuss some desk based methods for gathering this type of intelligence which I'm currently undertaking. By the end of this process I'll be so buried in data that the formality of building the website will be easy (or not!)
Writing this blog every other Monday can sometimes be a challenge. I settle on a subject, start doing some research and then end up in an internet wormhole. Then I need to refocus and remember what my original idea was!

It's less of a case of not knowing when to switch off and focus on real life but instead about trying to stay productive. The fear of missing out is a really big factor in this. The constantly humming news streams of social media or the news alerts from the BBC all try to pull me away from the task I'm trying to complete.

In a normal workday there are always distractions either from Skype, the mobile or the dreaded email. For the last week I've spent a lot of the time writing either agency briefs, award entries or funding submissions. For me, one of the things I like most about digital marketing is how varied it is. By just carrying out the same type of task (especially one that doesn't come naturally) it has been difficult to keep focused on delivery. So I've recently been thinking about methods I've previously employed to achieve this.

Firstly, I make sure that my emails are off! By getting started straight away before I get sucked into the game of email tennis it helps to set up my day as I mean to go on. That way I avoid getting to Friday and having to power work my way through all of the tasks that I need to complete.

With the type of work that many digital jobs entail it can also help to step away from and look at it with fresh eyes. I've found this in the past with video editing that sometimes you can get so embroiled you don't know if what you're looking at is any good anymore! This time off is not stalled productivity but is an investment in future performance. It does mean not leaving tasks to the last minute though!

My work setup is that I have two computer screens and this is something which I find super valuable. Typing on one screen while looking at a reference on the other or looking at my calendar on one screen and having my email on another really works even though it seems so simple. When I go home and try to use my laptop after using my two screens at work, I am noticeably slower at what I am trying to accomplish. Especially copying and pasting between documents.

Also, having a large family means we all have evening commitments. Whether it's tutoring, kickboxing, beavers/cubs or swimming it's important I leave on time most days. By having these commitments to ensure a definite leaving time each day, there's a healthy internal pressure to get things done. I've found in the past that not having a definite leaving time makes me more lax, thinking I have 24 hours until the next business day dawns. Then at 5.30pm I always update and prioritise my to-do list for tomorrow. That helps me come in and get going right away whilst also not worrying about what I need to do out of hours. My past self has it all taken care of!

I'm also a people person so for me I ensure I make time to chat with workmates or maybe help them with something. This is important time away from the screen and researching this blog helps me to try to stay ahead of the curve.

So I've hit my deadlines, I've submitted the awards entry and I've secured the funding. Now I need the same discipline to not multi-task on different devices? With an upcoming kitchen extension I'm going to enjoy all of my spare time being dominated by decorating in contrast to a day looking at the screen...!
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...
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