Peninsula Hotel: attention to detail = great online reputation

A tiny detail this morning motivates me to blog positively about the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong

This morning, in my friends apartment in London, I was ironing my shirt ready for a business meeting later in the day. When I came to the collar, I noticed those little plastic ‘stiffener’ tabs you find in place when you first buy the shirt. ‘Hang on…’ I thought ‘This shirt is a couple of months old. I don’t remember those tabs still being there…’

Of course, they weren’t – at least not until last week when I stayed in the 5* Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong on a business trip. Even before I reached down and pulled out one of the tabs I already knew it would have ‘Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong’ emblazened proudly on it. It did.

When I put my shirts in to be pressed at the Peninsula Hotel, they came back pressed, beautifully presented and equipped with little extra ‘temporary’ cuff-links, just in case I was missing some. And one more little plastic marketing gem, hidden away until this morning. Great customer service = great marketing.

That, folks, is how online reputation works. There is no other way.

Eject! Eject! Eject!

Visitor stats crash and burn… who knows why…?

The web is a funny beast. Last night I noticed two things: that this site appeared to be broked and that my visitor stats seemed to drop out of the sky in a ball of flame. I spent some time switching to a temporary template when it became clear that my expensive ‘ModThemes’ theme ‘Venture’ had suddenly decided not to work. I also upgraded WordPress (figuring what the hell, if I lose it all, it might as well be now).

WordPress upgraded ok and the temporary theme looks delicious in that green tone. Mmmm. The stats still say ’0′ visitors which is interesting since my posts are still clearly visible in Google.

Whenever this kind of thin happens it makes me realised that I’m sort of attached to this piece of web ‘real estate’. It has history. I has me at the top of Google for ‘online reputation management UK’ – which brings me occasional quirky and very interesting (if not profitable) enquiries from the weird and wonderful who have done baaaaad things and now don’t know what to do.

So I want to keep the site – not least because of how much reassurance it offers for victims of various scams. I’m also really busy and it leaves me wondering just how much time and energy I’ve got to re-build it. I guess that’s the problem with any piece of real estate: needs maintaining or it falls into disrepair.

Barclays flexible bonds

Will Google think that my friend Barclay and his flexible bonds is in any way interesting?

I was watching the TV tonight and I saw Barclay’s ad for Flexible Bonds which ended with the voiceover exhorting people to “Google ‘Barclays Flexible Bonds’. I enjoy watching businesses use Google in this way. Barclays are, of course, supremely confident that their results will come high up in Google. And so they do, I am sure.

Of course, I’m also interested to test just how well Barclays has sown this particular meadow for the keywords ‘Barclays flexible bonds’. You’d hope it was done well. You’d expect it to be done well. And if it IS done well, then you won’t see my post anywhere – which is how it should be. If you DO see this post, then I’d argue that something’s gone wrong somewhere in the Barclays’ online strategy.

You know me. Nothing malicious in my intent, just insatiably curious to see what happens.

TouchLocal listing: find out if you’re getting value for money

With our simple common-sense test

If you run your own company, it’s normal to want to increase the amount of business coming in. If you don’t understand online marketing, listing your business in an online directory might seem like a good idea – especially when these directories seem to guarantee a certain amount of traffic or enquiries.

If you are getting those promises from a salesman, the alarm bells should be going off at this point. Anyone who knows anything about the way the internet works will tell you that no one can guarantee you traffic (unless they’re clicking through to your site themselves), far less a guaranteed number of enquiries (even assuming you are getting any traffic) for the simple reason that a host of other factors about your business and your web presence combine to influence whether or not someone will actually contact you to buy.

The harsh reality is that you’re hungry for more business and the online business directories are hungry to sell you their services. This (in the light of the preceding paragraph) is an almost sure-fire recipe for inflated promises and, ultimately, unhappy customers.

The following is a simple, common-sense way to test what any online directory promises or implies in its sales pitches. Of course, only you can know what the salesman is actually promising, but do this test with those promises in mind – BEFORE you agree to anything!

I’m using TouchLocal for this common-sense test but you can do it for any one of those category-based directories.

First of all: Go to the TouchLocal home page. Choose one of their named categories. I chose ‘Sign Makers’

Step 1) In ‘Sign Makers’, select one of the paid listings (in this case a ‘sponsored business’) – I’ve chosen ‘Southern Neon Signs Ltd’ of Southampton

Step 2) Click on the company name and explore their TouchLocal listing. Click through to the company’s own website and make a note of their URL (so you can see if it comes up in Google searches later).

Step 3) Imagine you’re Southern Neon Signs Ltd. You’ve paid your money for TouchLocal to help people looking for a sign maker in Southampton to find you. Now you want to test how well they’re doing this. It’s time to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes.

Go to Google and do the obvious: a search on ‘sign makers southampton’. Look at the results. Do you see Southern Neon Signs there? No. Ok. Do you see any TouchLocal results there. Two. Ok. Do any mention your company? No.

Step 4) Explore the TouchLocal results. Click on the first one.

Step 5) This takes you to a TouchLocal listing page. Look careful at what’s happening on this page. First note that there are Google ads for your competitors in that all-important top part of the page. Next, note that there’s a listing for a direct competitor of yours directly above you! Then, note that you appear at the bottom of the page. Ask yourself what are you actually getting for your money here?

Step 6) Go back and explore the other TouchLocal result in the Google results page. Click the link to see what it leads to…

Step 7) Uh oh. This is worse. This leads you to a page with a single company listing on it – and it’s another direct competitor of yours! Plus another pile of Google Ads for your competitors.

So Southern Neon Signs Ltd paid money to a business directory in the hope of getting more business but their business name seems to be invisible on P1 of Google and where it DOES appear, it’s buried among their direct competitors and has no competitive advantage whatsoever.

At this point, you should be asking yourself ‘What did that business get for its money?’

They paid their money and got a listing in the directory. But remember, an entry in a directory is useless because nobody goes to a directory to search for products and services. They, like you, use Google when they want to find a sign maker in Southampton.

In Summary

The point of online marketing is that you’re trying to put your details (whether on your website or someone else’s – such as TouchLocal) in front of a potential customer. This customer is using Google to try to find someone to help with his problem. The words he’s typing into the Google search bar are what are referred to as ‘keywords’. You want your site to have those keywords in it, and you want Google to return YOUR site (not those of your competitors) at the top of its pile when someone searches for those keywords.

Google has to decide whose site is most relevant to the searcher. It does that by assessing the relevance (a complex and ever-changing formula) of your site to the searcher’s needs. An important part of that is your keywords.

If your site is well-made and has a liberal, and appropriate sprinkling of your business’s keywords (plus a host of other qualities that Google judges as contributing to its relevance) then it will be returned high in the search results when someone types – for example – ‘sign makers southampton’.

When an online directory offers to make your business more visible in Google and get you more enquiries or business, it will try to do this by competing for those keywords and presenting your business details as high up in Google as it can. The problem for any directory (and for you as a business with your own website) is that where there’s money to be made (for example, in sign writing in Southampton) there will be a lot of people competing with you to appear at the top of Google for those keywords.

Neither you, TouchLocal or anyone else can cheat your way to the top of Google (although many try). To get there – to be considered more relevant than all the other pages on the web that might reference ‘sign makers southampton’ (including all your competitors and all the other online directories competing with you and each other to get those top 10 slots) – you have to work really hard or pay a lot and take the short cut – using Google’s sponsored advertising ‘Adwords’ system.

So when an online directory offers you lots of exposure and implies that this will lead to lots of business, you need to remember that they’re going to be playing the game I’ve just described – along with literally dozens of other online directories doing the same thing for other sign makers in Southampton and everywhere else, for that matter.

The reality that nobody ever points out to you is this: there are only 10 worthwhile places on P1 of Google (plus the sponsored links). If you’re not in those, then (by and large) the business will go to those who are. And you can rest assured that those who are will be those who have paid or done the hard work to get their names on the first page. Not the name of TouchLocal or UpMyStreet or Yell or any of those directories.

Go to Google, type in ‘sign makers southampton’ again.

Look at the yellow shaded ads at the top and the ads down the right hand side of the page. These are Google Ads – paid for by the company wanting to appear at the top of Google. The more money there is to be made in their business, the more it will cost them to appear there. The normal law of advertising applies.

Look at the ‘organic’ search results – the rest of the results on that page. Note there are numerous entries at the top for TouchSouthampton and Yell. But put yourself in the buyers position. Those listings tell you NOTHING about any companies. To find a company to satisfy your needs, you’re going to have to click through to TouchLocal to find out more. The browsing prospect is going to go with a named company on the first page, not a ‘one-click-removed’ TouchLocal listing.

The bottom line is that a prospect is far more likely to click on any one of the paid ads or the Google business listings before they’ll go anywhere near the TouchSouthampton or Yell listings on that P1 of results.

The good news is that YOU can run this test yourself before you agree to sign up to any online directory.

Goodgaragescheme.co.uk: how do you respond to this?

Is Goodgaragescheme a dishonest way of shifting car treatments masquerading as ‘honest’ feedback?

Quite some time ago I noticed ‘The Good Garage Scheme’ when waiting at my local garage. I asked the owner about it. He told me straight that the only way a garage could be ‘in’ the scheme was by agreeing to stock certain engine treatments. What???!!? Being a fan of honest, credible feedback, this naturally made my ears prick up.

I did some research at the time and, sure enough, he appeared to be right. I blogged about it (generously NOT using the name ‘Good Garage Scheme’ in my title to give them the benefit of the doubt) and then left it alone. Today, however, alerted by a Google search bringing traffic to this site, I found the following recent online review:

“If you’ve never heard of the good garage scheme …well it’s a scheme that any garage can join as long as they sell certain products endorsed by the company behind the scheme. They have a website where you can find good garage scheme garages and also , the most important I thought, leave reviews about the garages you visit. Now if you check their website it would be impossible to find any negative reviews posted for any garage that belongs to their scheme. On the other hand most people would probably think that this is because all the garages are good indeed and that’s why there is no bad reviews. That’s not the case though.

I live in St Albans and I decided to visit xxxx xxx x x xxxxx in St Albans to do a simple wheel alignment. The service I got was horrible. There was a 17 year old kid doing the wheel alignment while the boss ( the mechanic) was sitting in his office with his feet on his desk chatting on his mobile phone.Needless to say that the kid messed it up big time and my car was driving in a straight line with the steering wheel at an angle of 20 degrees!!!!! I complained to the mechanic who immediately tried to blame it on my car and a faulty steering wheel. That was not the case though. He did the wheel alignment and he got the car perfect which proved the point that the kid didn’t know what he was doing and in fact he put my life in danger.

Anyway , this is not a review of xxxxx x xxxx xxxxx who are completely irresponsible and dangerous. I tried to leave a negative review for this garage on the good garage scheme website but of course there was nothing posted and my review will never be posted. This is just a scam scheme. What is the point of posting only positive reviews and ignoring negative ones.

I think that trading standards and the watchdog should have a look at this scheme. In the meantime just run away from any garage under this scheme.”

As I discovered the first time I looked into this, the scheme is operated by Forte – a company supplying high-price, high-margin ‘emission-control’ fuel additives to the garages in the GoodGarageScheme system.

We think this is fundamentally dishonest.

The results? Standards of customer care and quality of work that are worse than non-participating garages!

Yes, in a recent Which? survey Good Garage Schemes performed WORST of all in a test in which cars with a list of basic faults were presented at a range of garages. Check out the Independents’ report on this here – and note the poor GGS performance.

Tripadvisor RSS feeds: dumped, apparently…

TripAdvisor’s quiet dumping of RSS feeds raises interesting issues

RSS – on the surface, a great mechanism for delivering your content to a wider world. In reality – as it appears that TripAdvisor has quietly concluded – completely counter-productive for sites dependent on on-site advertising for their revenues.

For a short time, RSS feeds allowed the traveller to monitor a hotel over time to pick up any worrying reports before booking or travelling. A hotel owner could use RSS to have latest reviews delivered so he could monitor and respond to any potential reputation problems as they arose.

It all sounded good – until somebody at TripAdvisor presumably realised that providing RSS feeds of reviews achieved absolutely nothing except keeping the potential clickers at a distance from the on-site sponsors. Doh.

What’s interesting is that now, if you search Google for Tripadvisor RSS feeds, there’s no clear information. TripAdvisor seems to mumble on a bit about RSS being available at various places on the site, but I didn’t see any when I did a quick search just now.

So if you’ve arrived here trying to work out why something that seemed so useful to the general public suddenly disappeared, the answer can only be that RSS, pushing content TO subscribers doesn’t work with the Google Ad Revenue model.

This also hints at something I’ve thought for a while – that online revenue mechanisms default to the Ad revenue model when direct monetisation or other methods fail.

Down the rabbit hole of online reputation

Following the online reputation White Rabbit leads me to ask questions of yet another online business directory

This is what I love about the internet. Follow any White Rabbit that passes, and before you know it, you’re falling down a rabbit hole that leads to only one place: Dodgyland.

Come with me on a journey.

It all begins with noticing a tweet on my Twitter search widget (over there on the nav bar) about ‘online reputation management’.  I click the link which takes me to a blog page about managing your reputation by creating fake identities and fake content to test the ‘Google’ visibility of certain platforms and directories. Mmmm ok. I have views on that, but another time. Read on.

I note the name of the poster: Ehud Furman. A quick Google search shows Ehud is the founder of a service called ‘LookUpPage’ a service that seems to offer you a business web page with a claim that ’95% of LookUpPage Pro users are featured on the first page of Google’. Uh-oh. That’s torn it – you went and triggered my ‘online directory’ alarm! Blast it – now I’ve just got to go and have a closer look :-)

So I delve into the business directory, determined to test the benefits on offers to a random premium (paying) member.  I scroll down to find our lucky winner, one Mr. Jimmy Petruzzi who appears to be a NLP practitioner in Manchester.

So, first of all, I take a look at Jimmy’s LookUpPage page. I notice he’s attached a custom domain name to it. First thing that strikes me is that it’s all a bit messy, but, hey, if it provides useful Google visibility for his business, then maybe it’s worth it?

How can I tell if it’s worth paying for a premium listing in an online business directory?

You can use my time-honoured Deek-O-Matic Online Directory Tester:

1) First I search Google for “nlp trainer manchester” – the kind of basic search phrase you’d think Jimmy would want prospects to find him for. However, neither his own website or his LookUpPage appear on the first couple of pages for that phrase.

2) I then look at his LookUpPage header to see what key phrases are in it and then do a search on ‘Jimmy Petruzzi’ and ‘NLP centre of excellence‘ both of which return his LookUpPage on P1 of Google.

It appears that for his money, all Jimmy gets is listings on P1 of Google for two completely uncompetitive terms: his own name and that of his company. Waaah. He could – and in fact, does – achieve this same result with his own website. Doinggg???

There’s an important point to make here: the average directory punter who doesn’t quite get how Google works thinks that this is a result. It isn’t. The whole point of search engine marketing is to be found in Google search results for the keywords that the prospects you want to do business with actually type into Google. Being found for your own name or the specific name of your business ISN’T an achievement for two simple reasons: 1) because they’re not hotly contested key phrases and 2) because people typing them by default already know you and your business exist. Doh.

Anyone giving you the impression that getting your name / business name into P1 of Google results will generate business for you is seriously misleading you – not least because you could just as easily do this yourself (as Jimmy already has).

So what is the benefit to him of paying for this service? You tell me.

Conclusion

This test shows that a premium listing with this directory brings Jimmy no real-world benefit at all because it doesn’t offer him any Google visibility to new prospects (people who don’t already know him & his business). 

But it points to a bigger problem: that customers of this kind of directory, by definition, don’t understand the distinctions I’ve just made. With that in mind and coupled with sales pitches that strongly suggest increased business as a benefit of membership (as was the case in a recent well-document case on this site) it’s hard not to conclude that this lack of understanding suits online directories.

You can tell I’m being restrained here. To be blunt about Google marketing, there’s no easy or cheap way to get your products into the public eye in a competitive market.

Something else I don’t think Jimmy understands is that LookUpPage adds a final, self-serving twist to his premium listing:

You can see the company that sells the listing has used half of the meta description to promote itself. Nifty.

I’ve been doing this common-sense test for years now, and the majority of the online directory services I’ve tested don’t appear to offer any benefits.

If I’ve got it wrong, please let me know. I don’t mean come here and get angry and defensive; I mean come here, read my critique carefully then respond in testable, black and white terms exactly what the benefits on offer are.

Jimmy, if you’re reading this, I hope business is going well. If you have a view on anything I’ve written here then please feel free to comment.

Hotel horror stories: more worrying marketing from Tripadvisor

Nothing pulls in viewers like a bit of shock horror, right Tripadvisor?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; this isn’t a good marketing strategy.

Hey, what do I know?

All I know is that this approach to pulling people into the Tripadvisor site does nothing to build my trust in either Tripadvisor’s motives or its methods. Sadly, it’s following that time-honoured, downward trend of all things internet: the more lurid, tacky, salacious and shocking your content and methods, the more money you’ll make.

Pardon me for being…well, not surprised, I suppose is a way of putting it.

Tripadvisor’s slogan used to be ‘Get the truth and then go’. That’s since become ‘The world’s most trusted reviews’ – which is convenient, since it’s now only one small step to change it again to ‘The world’s tackiest reviews’.

Tripadvisor no doubt feels safe behind its US internet libel laws which (to this layman) seem to offer considerable protection to anyone publishing anyone else’s comments about anything. Add the penchant for anonymity in the world of reviews and you have a recipe for sleaze and manipulation.

Yuk.

Several reasons why not to use the first image you find in Google

SEO companies: if you grab the first image you find…

You’ll all end up looking the same!

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17

I’ve always been interested in how people use Google images in the building of their websites. Now, I know how tempting it is to use the first image you come across when you’re in a hurry to get your page built.  But if you do, then one day soon, we’re all going to be using the same image.

A couple of years ago I noticed a rash of companies all local to Plymouth in the UK, all involved in the same broad business networks using one single set of ‘smiley young corporate business people’ pictures – and they didn’t know it. Incredible.

Ok, so you might think heck, that other company’s over there in Canada, so what’s the likelhood of anyone noticing we’re both in the same line of work using the same picture? Mmm, right. This is the internet we’re talking about isn’t it?

I’m not making a judgment whether or not people are paying for the images they find in Google.  That’s between you and your own conscience.  What I would say, though, is if you’re going to use things you find without paying for them you might want to consider taking a tiny moment to rename them.

The sites (above) are a quick collection of a few SEO companies who have all used the exact same image to sell their search engine marketing services.  These were all found by a quick Google image search on ‘internet marketing’ in the order I found them (except No. 1 which is the local company I saw the image in the first place):

These are just some of the businesses that have used the image without bothering to change the name.  There must be plenty of others in the same field that have changed the name.

If you’ve arrived here because of one of these links, welcome.  As you can see, you’re in good company :-)