Danger words

Bad words. Click image for source.

Bad words. Click image for source.

When I was a young, naive strip of a lad, I thought everyone used the right words for the right reasons.

How wrong I was. How very, very wrong.

Today, gnarled and grizzled, I’m more aware of what people are really saying when words come out of their heads.

And some of those words should start alarm bells ringing if you’re anything to do with strategy.

I call them ‘danger words’. If I had a little blue light on my head, it would start flashing every time I hear them. They usually mean I’m in for a rough ride.

Here are three:

  • Holistic. You’ll hear this a lot. “Our strategy is holistic.” “We take a holistic approach to communications.” The problem with holistic is that it’s shorthand for ‘we don’t really know what we’re doing. We just sort of throw it all in the pot and see what comes out. Consequently we’re in a bit of a mess Brendan, so we’d like you to sort it all out for us.’ This is fine except it’s rarely followed by ‘Here, have a large sum of money.’
  • Organic. This is another danger word, very like holistic. “We’ve grown our communities organically.” “Our templates have grown organically.” This actually means ‘we didn’t plan any of it. We didn’t actually know what we wanted to achieve and we basically winged it for a while. Now we’re in a bit of a pickle. So we’d like you to sort it all out for us.’ Again.
  • Creative. Is again quite similar in its startling non-specificity. “We believe in creative communications.” Wack-o-the-diddle-o. Usually this means ‘if we surround ourselves with enough chocolate, cake, biscuits, caffeine, plasticine, stickle bricks, lego and flash cards, we’ll come up with something’. The problem is exactly that – you come up with something, but not necessarily the right thing. I’m not usually asked to fix creativity because by the time I come in, it’s usually being classed as holistic or organic.

So there you have it. These are wishy-washy terms that you might hear and, if you’re new to comms, might think they make perfect sense. But they don’t.

They have the devil inside. They embody rigdly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty. They are ‘danger’ words that you should be afraid of. And fear leads to anger. Anger leads to pain. Pain leads to suffering. Be careful.

I’m sure there are plenty more examples out there but, owing to having only three readers of this blog, one of whom is currently having his tonsils removed, I doubt I’ll get many responses. OK, look, I’ll add a poll.

Like This!

links for 2010-06-18

  • "Help businesses harness the full potential of social media intelligence and focus on measuring the impact social media has on businesses". I seem to have heard this many, many, many, many times. The simple truth is that a combination of content creativity, PR insight, solid strategy and an understanding of how businesses work is rare. I don't see how a combination of a measurement and consultancy company can provide this. Measurement companies lack the strategic insight and execution; consultancies lack the creativity. What I think is right about this partnership is that, as Stuart says, they'll be able to take on the 'fluffy' PR people. What's wrong is that they won't understand communication. Statistics is not communication, and consultancy is not creativity. Nonetheless I await the outcome with interest.

To craunch a marmoset, frothy vomit, and other curiosities

A marmoset, being craunched, yesterday. Click image for source.

A marmoset, being craunched, yesterday. Click image for source.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

So I was going through Epoch PR‘s numbers (I’m their digital associate and am helping them with their online strategy), and this came up: http://seadna.net/301-redirect-the-seo-way-to-rename-or-move-files-or-folders/

To quote the bit that my Epoch PR search must have picked up: “it takes a straws of in good time always and hard hopped to build a skilful epoch PR.”

Do what?

The piece is so weird, it’s inspired. Here are some more examples:

  • “If someone types ‘excise usb drives’ in a search engine punch, your foot-boy shows up on the sooner search results screen”
  • “Google developed a proprietary algorithm that assigns a Page Stinking (PR) to every summon forth”
  • “why can’t you upright matching the page and disenchant type suffer its course”

I think it must be a machine translation of another article or just random text pasted together to get web traffic. The funny thing is that it sort of makes sense, but really doesn’t.

It goes to show – monitoring and measurement is never as easy as it first seems. And there’s never a foot-boy around when you need one.

Further down the search list is a post I can more readily vouch for: http://oldamqvnl.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!D7176E885C76F591!109.entry is a machine translation of my own Epoch PR post from a few months back, so given that I write in English, and that it is also in English, I can only assume it’s via a second language somewhere. Good Lord, is the web really just an eternally self-translating churn of random copy?

Again, there are wonderful mistakes in it: the company name changes from ‘Epoch’ to ‘Era’; they change from a lovely bunch of people to ‘a lovely clustering of people’; and I simply cannot tell you why “I’m no visionary but I do remember my sneaking suspicion that blogging would be important for PR about three years ago” becomes “I ‘m no windy but I make recall my mousing intuition that blogging would be important for Pr about three geezerhood ago.”

This all reminds me of a case once quoted in the ‘The Book of Heroic Failures’, in which someone had written an English/Portuguese dictionary via  English/Spanish and Spanish/Portuguese dictionaries (he knew no English), and came up with immortal phrases such as ‘to craunch a marmoset’. And yes, here it is: the glorious ‘English As She Is Spoke’.

Or, indeed, the catalogue currently describing the latest Saatchi exhibition. To wit: “A nation demarcated where vomit meets surf, geographically encircled by froth”. I would characterise the UK as many things, but vomity, surfy and frothy it ain’t.

Proof that you don’t need machine translation on the interweb to come up with gobbledegook.

Guest Post: Steve Meleka of Noble Meleka on SEO

That's what I think anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

That's what Steve thinks anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

Preamble: Last week I posted my thoughts on SEO, after receiving a stream of great comments on Twitter that I thought were worth sharing. In turn, I’d posted because I was working on a project with a long-term colleague and friend, Steve Meleka. I worked with him at Imagination Technologies at the time we won the Sega Dreamcast contract, where I was the technical writer and Steve was the web designer. Now that I’m freelance, and Steve has his own web development company, we continue to collaborate on cool and interesting new projects.

Following from my post last week, and the resulting tweets, it struck me that Steve has a lot to say on the subject – as someone who works on the ground, day in day out, getting results for clients. While there’s a tendency in the social media world for people to think they’re the latest and greatest, we need to be reminded that community and content are not everything. We need to remember the basics. So here’s Steve’s take on this…

Good, effective copy is what sells a product or service to a real person. But, and it’s and extremely important ‘but’, the people who you succeed in selling to will always be a subset of the people who find you in the first place.

If the content of your page generates 500 visits in its ‘un-optimised’ state, and you manage a 5% conversion rate then you’ve got yourself 25 sales. Give yourself a big hand.

But, if you increase your traffic two or three times using SEO techniques while managing to retain your conversion rate you could manage 50 or 75 sales. If you’re selling large individual units – combine harvesters or something – that’s a fat wad of cash. Any don’t kid yourself for a moment tat the combine harvester outfit down the road aren’t trying to beat you to the top of the search results, because they are.

Appearing at the top and even getting more visits is only half the story though. The saying goes we should work smarter, not harder, and SEO probably falls mostly into the ‘harder’ category. The smart money is in converting visits into sales, which means writing compelling sales copy for people, not search ranking algorithms.

Tell me though, what use is one approach without the other? Pretty much a big fat zero. Like I said at the start, those people you manage to convert will always be a subset of those you manage to attract in the first place.

I know very well that quality content is going to get linked to from many other places than just search engines, but most small business people don’t consider themselves ‘experts’ and many consider giving advice dangerous since it could give their competitors an edge. So in the end, at this end of the market it’s not the norm for clients to generate (or even commission, sadly) enough new content to generate interest.

So what do I see the web doing for small & medium businesses now? Well, people said back in the 90s that the web was going to democratise business, and create a level playing field where Mom and Pop could compete with the conglomerates. In some cases that’s true, but only if Mom and Pop deploy their more limited resources in a new or novel way (see Mashable’s Small Business Success Stories to see what I mean).

The reality is that the web has just turned into another tool in the marketing box, and often a bigger budget will win out. Want more visits? Publish more content. Looking for more conversions? Test more high quality a/b tested content. More, more, more. In the end, more costs more. (Guess this page will rank better for ‘more’ than anything else.)

So at the coal face, working with small and medium sized companies, a strategy I’ve found to work is apply SEO in a palatable fashion to generate traffic into the site. At the same time, and ideally within the same content that ranks well in the first place, make the offer or suggest the solution to the problem the customer has and aim to convert them.

It’s a tall order, I know, and it’s not one I can manage alone. That’s why I hire a kick-ass copywriter like Brendan to fuse the two together for me. It won’t always work first time, but hey, this is marketing, we should be endlessly rinsing and repeating anyway, just like we did with direct response print ads back in the day.

Post-amble (is that even a word?): What do you think? Do we need to work harder, or smarter, or both? Is SEO dead, or live and kicking? Let me know.