How NOT to advertise your special offer by

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After poor signal coverage I’m leaving Orange soon. As I use a lot of data I thought I’d take a look at Three and their website confused me in less than ten seconds. I arrived on the site with a clear goal in my head, landed on the site and scrolled down to find what I wanted. I wanted to look at a SIM only plan but couldn’t click on the link. Hell, I couldn’t click on ANY of the links.

Because I spend most of my day trying to spot issues like this, I wondered incredulously about that special offer graphic at the top of the page, the one I’d scrolled past quickly because I’m a task-oriented user… could that be a lightbox advert on the page?

three's very dumb homepage advert

Oh. My. God!

I tune out special offers if I am on a website with a clearly defined goal. It’s not that you shouldn’t promote a special offer- but it should be aimed at users who are just browsing. This offer would have worked just as well as an ordinary graphic featured in a similar position on the homepage. Hijacking control in this way is actually even worse than the old popup browser window adverts because the user cannot ignore it- he has to close it before any other action can be performed in the current window.

The background is a very light grey, the lack of an obvious contrast left me scratching my head wondering why I couldn’t click around the rest of the site. The lack of an ‘X’ in the top right didn’t help either. I’d be very interested to know what happened to the bounce rate of the homepage for the duration of this unconventional (and frankly bonkers) approach.

How to write headlines for landing pages

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“On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy” stated David Ogilvy. A compelling statistic, but how does this translate to your web site?

Ogilvy continues; “unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 per cent of your money.” But remember- he was writing about print advertising. Print advertising designed to distract a reader from his newspaper and compel him to read on. An eye-catching headline was vital. The reader hadn’t sought out the product, the advertising had to work for the readers attention. This is an important difference between a print headline and one used on a pay per click landing page- you have their attention, you need to minimise that bounce rate by quickly confirming that the user is in the right place.

Copywriter Andy Maslen suggests that a headline should ‘make the reader want to read the body copy’ and encapsulate the ‘sales pitch in 10-16 words or fewer.’ 

I’ve struggled with this on landing pages. In fact, I’ve obtained better results with headlines that immediately reassured a user that they were in the right place- aiming for consistency between the landing page headline and the PPC ad text. This might be dull, but if it quickly confirms that a user is in the right place, they’ll read your introductory paragraph (which is where you can start selling and where I’ve enjoyed most impact in my split testing).

Here are some quick tips which might help…

Split test your headlines

You’ll never know what works until you test! Claude Hopkins spent ‘far more time on headlines than on writing’ and Ogilvy never wrote ‘fewer than sixteen headlines for a single advertisement’.  Both copywriters would split test headline effectiveness by measuring coupon redemption.  Thankfully, we can split test too-  Google Website Optimizer! Write a series of headlines, split test them to see which generates the most conversions. It’s easy (and free)!

Find the right tone of voice

Different products require a different approach. I’ve tried what I thought was a compelling headline and found that a dry and boring one actually achieved a better conversion rate.  An attention grabbing headline might undermine trust if it’s applied to a product that calls for a more subtle or formal tone.  Do you want something more salesy, or does your audience expect something more functional? Test your ideas.

Read the news

Try and spot good headlines.  Journalists are experts at summarizing an article in as few words as possible. Some write headlines that grab your attention and compel you to read on. It’s worth reading Jakob Nielsen’s opinion of the headlines used on BBC News.

2009 showed the power of social networking

2009 has been the year of Twitter.  While lacking Facebook’s massive userbase, the influence Twitter exerted on the national news agenda in the UK has been impressive.

Graham Linehan’s WeLoveTheNHS twitter hashtag marked the beginning of Twitter as a grassroots form of protest, & both the Trafigura & JanMoir hashtags gained a rapid momentum forcing the mainstream media to highlight these stories.  Over on Facebook, a group propelled Rage Against The Machine to Christmas number 1 as a protest against manufactured pop music. 2010 will bring more social media surprises, particularly with a General Election on the way.

It will be interesting to see how e-marketers try to harness the power of social media over the next year & try to adapt to a unique medium.

Social Media Marketing – What NOT to do

Social media marketing is a tricky subject & handled badly can generate terrible results.  Habitat tried to harness the power of Twitter by hijacking hashtags & posting special offers.  The problem here comes from the way the medium has been approached.

Habitat treated Twitter as if it were some form of broadcast medium; they talked at people and not with them – Twitter is the big conversation.

Unless you are tweeting compelling content, then you won’t acquire any followers, so your tweets won’t show on anyone’s timeline… they won’t be seen by anyone.  To counteract this Habitat’s marketing team started including current trending hashtags so that when users around the world did a search, the special offer would appear.

Unsurprisingly enough the Twitter community didn’t like this approach & has become a case study for how not to run a Twitter campaign; afterall who wants to see furniture being cynically advertised on a hashtag reserved for protests of outrage over the Iranian elections.

I think this 2010 will provide yet more interesting examples of what to do & what to avoid, but if you want to see the best example I’ve seen so far of a good Twitter campaign that engages with users, JetBlue is particularly impressive.

Are you getting mugged by your affiliates?

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I’ve most probably missed the boat by talking about affiliate marketing as it’s no longer the flavour of the month, not a day goes by when I don’t get an email suggesting a merchant has closed down their affiliate campaign), but it’s still a channel that can generate a worthwhile proportion of sales, but you will have to avoid some fairly common mistakes.

The biggest mistake is a lack of a PPC policy.  On one site I found that while the affiliate scheme was generating significant sales every month, the sales were all coming from affiliates who were bidding on the site’s brand name.  The major problem here is that purchasing decisions are non-linear. A user might visit your site a few times before he decides to buy your product, here’s an example:

If a user wants to go to Florida and your site sells tickets for SeaWorld Orlando, the process might go something like this:

A user searches for: ‘things to do in Florida’

This is an informational gathering term, an early part of the process – at this point the user doesn’t know what they will want to do in Florida.  After visiting a couple of sites, she lands onto your ticket site and reads about a few attractions including SeaWorld Orlando.

She goes away and thinks about it, and suggests SeaWorld to her husband and her kids who are also going on holiday.  They like it, so next she’s looking at the price and searches for something more like:

SeaWorld Orlando Tickets

This is much more focused, but she’s not booking anything until payday, so she’s just comparing the different ticket sites.

A week later and she’s been paid, time to book those tickets.  Assuming your site is persuasive, engaging and competitive on price (not necessarily lowest – competitive) then the next search will be:


The conversion rate for your brand name should be sky high!  That’s because people only search for it after they’ve been through this process or have bought from you before.

My original point was that if you don’t have a PPC policy on your affiliate merchant account, you’re open to affiliates carpetbagging sales by bidding on your branding.  It’s the easiest money any affiliate will ever make, because they didn’t do anything to persuade the user to buy – you did all that work, they wanted to come back and you paid a 5% commission for no good reason at all. Silly you!  Make sure you add a PPC Policy on your affiliate account prohibiting affiliates from bidding on brand related terms.

You should follow me on twitter here.

Online Marketing Show 09 – London Olympia

Just finished up at the Online Marketing Show at the Olympia and there wasn’t really a lot to report, there was certainly an abundance of SEO and PPC firms but a worrying dearth of analytics firms there.  The only name I spotted was Webtrends which is a shame considering the number of interesting analytics toolsets out there, perhaps they’ve appeared there in past years and haven’t generated much business from it. If that’s the case then it’s a worrying scenario when we work on the most accountable sales channel – with powerful metrics showing where your sales come from and where you are simply throwing money down the toilet. Interesting…

The most interesting stuff in a very mixed bag was a demonstration of ‘augmented reality’, a term I’d heard of but didn’t understand.  Basically a webcam was focused on a piece of white paper which had something that looked like a large QR code on it, instantly a 3d rendered model of a car appeared on an adjacent monitor which was relaying the footage from the webcam. As I moved the paper around in my hand the car rotated as well.  While I couldn’t think of any use of this technology on any websites I currently work with, I can certainly see some creative implementations from very large brands over the next couple of years.

Pure 360 gave an interesting presentation about some do’s and dont’s of email marketing (unsurprising considering they’re an email marketing agency) and pleasingly encouraged the audience to test as much as possible. Man after my own heart.

Clicktracks rebranded – Lyris HQ Web Analytics

I was very surprised to read that the Clicktracks name is no more.  Following on from the aquisition of Clicktracks by Lyris, I guess it’s unsurprising that they want it to be seen as part of a set of online marketing tools rather than an isolated product, a shame though as I think Lyris HQ Web Analytics sounds a bit dry and is a bit of a mouthful.  As long as they keep creating good analytics software who cares though right?

E-commerce survey – Price vs Reputation

An interesting article caught my eye on Friday with a simple enough and important message “Price is important online. But not as important as reputation“.  Referencing a study by usability consultancy Webcredible, the results are used to suggest that “28% of the 1300 online shoppers polled are most likely to make a purchase based on the reputation of a website”.  This is an eye catching statistic and one that will almost certainly be repeated by agencies trying to convey the importance of creating trust in a brand and convey reassurance between a site and it’s users.

I immediately thought about a quote from film critic Dr Mark Kermode:  ‘believe the tale, not the teller.’   Would a customer be able to tell you exactly why he bought from a specific retailer?  Given the myriad of subtle persuasive techniques employed both offline and online, it would be a challenge for any customer to give an honest answer as to why they bought, because in a lot of instances they’ll be responding to psychological effects they may not be consciously aware of.

Secondly and much more importantly, while I broadly agree with the conclusions that ‘experience, trust and reliability matter’, I’m not convinced that too much can be read into the exact statistics quoted.  While the e-consultancy article refers to ‘1300 online shoppers’, a quick glance at the original Webcredible survey says:

‘The ecommerce persuasion research polled 1,382 visitors to the Webcredible website between April and June 2009.’

1300 visitors to a website specialising in web usability consultancy is hardly a random sample of users.  I can only hazard a guess as to the breakdown of survey respondants but I’d be more than willing to suggest that the type of individual looking for usability consultancy is very web-savvy and aware of the dangers of unsecure websites, and he’s also likely to be on a significantly higher salary than the national average.  This would probably decrease the price sensitivity of the user.

An interesting study and an area certainly worth further research, but let’s not be too eager to quote exact percentages based on what appears to be a very restricted demographic sample.

Bing & Web Analytics Reporting

I’ve just been looking at last weeks web analytics data and I’ve spotted something that I expect will cause other people problems as well.  I’ll use the example of Clicktracks because that’s the web analytics solution that I use regularly,  I expect similar issues could arise with other analytics software.

Here is a snapshot of the paid search referrals from MSN adcenter for the week ending 30th May 2009

Week ending 30th May - PPC MSN

Week ending 30th May - PPC MSN

Ok…. so here’s the paid search data for the week ending 6th June.

Week ending 6th June- PPC MSN

Week ending 6th June- PPC MSN

Wow – where did all my visitors go?  Relax – they’re still there, but since now redirects to Bing and Clicktracks isn’t yet recognising Bing as an engine so I’m not getting accurate stats on the search engine report.  Hopefully there’ll be an update soon.

UPDATE – Just been chatting to a confused webmaster who was unable to find out why Google Analytics was reporting that her MSN referrals had dried up, now she knows why! Google Analytics needs to update too as Bing shows up as one of my top referrers, but not in the search report.  Phew… Lets hope Microsoft stick with this brand for a bit longer this time round eh?

6 WordPress plugins I can’t live without…

WordPress is much more powerful than you might think and I love searching through the plethora of plugins available that can add in functionality that will turbo-charge your blog.

All-in-one SEO Pack

One of my main gripes with WordPress is that you can’t apply tailored meta tags and title tags to a blog post.  By default, all tags inherit from whatever tags you’ve specified for your homepage – unsurprisingly enough if you want to get ahead on the search engines, you’ll need to make sure you can specify apropriate titles and meta tags per blog post.  This excellent plugin fixes that.


When you first set up your blog – be prepared for comment spam, it’s very annoying and even if you set up moderation on comments you’ll still get an alert everytime someone wants to post vague and poorly worded comments like ‘Good post. I like.’, accompanied by a link to some site selling viagara.  Akismet is a spam filter that makes my life much easier, I’ve heard there are other good alternatives but I’ve not had a problem with Akismet.


Twittering is obviously a good way of getting some immediate traffic to your latest news articles and blog posts and giving a clear call to action to encourage people to post your link via twitter is great!

Twitter Status

A good way of adding a constant stream of fresh content to your site by displaying your current Twitter status – a great way to get new followers too.  My only issue with it, is it’s reliance on JavaScript – but I’ve looked at some alternatives and they’re not as good.


Ever been on a blog and found that the users posting comments have avatars – that’s because they’ve registered on the site right?  No!  Gravatars is a global avatar system and wordpress blogs can hook into and extract the correct avatar based on the email address that’s posted a comment on your blog – very cool!

Google XML Sitemaps

Like the All-In-One SEO pack – this makes your life easier if you want to get some traffic from natural search.  Your XML sitemap comtaining URL’s of all of your pages are automatically generated after updates to your blog.

Any recommendations and suggestions for other plugins I should look at,  post them below.

The Marketing Dinosaurs Are Extinct

Online Marketing Manager – a job title that appears in increasing numbers on job search sites, but it’s probably to be expected that an adequate description has not been settled on, and given the constantly changing, ever evolving nature of the web a satisfactory description will probably remain rather flaky.

The problem with online marketing in general is the number of Dinosaurs who are trying to transfer their skills from old-school media into this new age.

The proliferation of Internet access has been rapid, first with painfully slow dial-up connections and then almost as rapidly broadband connections – which are still becoming ever faster.

We’re not tied to the old fashioned breeze block style desktop PC anymore, with mobile phones allowing us to twitter on trains, & check your email at a football match. Right now I’m blogging from a tiny Acer netbook on a wireless connection. The online marketers who truly understand technology and the general direction it’s heading are the marketers who will prosper now, and continue to prosper. While general marketing principles can be transferred they need to be revised and updated to tackle this new media.

As Jeffrey & Bryan Eisenberg explain brilliantly in ‘Waiting for your cat to bark’, the increasing choice of media, be it more traditional such as magazines and television – or web-based have had a dramatic impact on how target customers behave. The increasing specialization of TV channels and the syndication of web content and the ability to display only the content relevant to the individual via services such as iGoogle means ‘1-size-fits-all’ style advertising campaigns have less of an impact than they once did.

Unless you understand this shift, it is difficult to succeed in online marketing, that’s why an increasing number of online marketers will have an academic background in technology. In many ways it is easier to transfer the skills of a web technology graduate to the online marketing role.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…

SEO – I’ve yet to meet a traditional marketer who understands exactly what it is and how it should be practiced.

I’ve heard flippant dismissals and unjustified faith in snake-oil salesmen-like unethical agencies who deliver nothing but poor quality keyword-stuffed pages.

Better yet I’ve recently heard from one marketer who believed that Google would actually phone you up and tell you off if you had duplicated someone else’s content.

Make sure you write unique content and brush your teeth kiddies – or the GoogleMan will get you!

In itself, it seems fairly innocuous stuff – after all, does it matter if you believe in nonsense like that as long as the end-result is the same?

Well yes it does, because it leads to a very disjointed, jarring approach to online marketing, when what you should be striving for is a holistic approach. An approach focused on communicating your product benefits effectively, serving a user’s needs and answering their questions.

Online marketing should primarily be about fixing holes in a leaking bucket (your persuasion process):

  • Attracting your target users (Pouring more water into the bucket)
    • SEO, PPC, email marketing
  • Maximising your site performance (fixing those holes, so it doesn’t leak as much!)
    • Site usability, persuasive copy.

Search Engine Optimization is as much about the implementation of web technology as it is about writing, the myriad of issues that can affect the performance of a site in the SERPS make it difficult for a traditional marketer to perform such a task, or hold an agency accountable for potentially shoddy work.

Pay-per-click in isolation is something that can be run by a traditional marketer (writing good ad copy), the problem is – it’s performance is linked to the performance of your website, and this performance is measured by tracking user activity with analytics and usability testing – something traditional marketers rarely embrace.

If you’re constantly testing and incrementally improving how your site deals with it’s current traffic levels, retain existing customers and attract new ones – you’ll constantly be improving turnover and lowering your cost per acquisition.

Despite this, the number of online marketers who arrive into a new role and ditch the current site without performing any type of analysis on it, is staggering. What successful business ditches a site without analysing what went well, and what went wrong?

After a site design, too many sites are basically abandoned with a sigh of relief – ‘phew! The new site is live, we can forget about that until next year when we try to justify our salaries by asking for the annual redesign.’

What about testing individual page elements with a split test (Google’s free ‘website optimiser’)? Does the change work? If yes, make the change permanent and devise your next experiment.

Online businesses are much more accountable than their offline equivalents. Log files, Javascript tracking, usability tests all offer insight into what works on sites and where problem areas lie, and yet too often massive business decisions are made on the whim of an arrogant online marketer who doesn’t exploit the resources now so freely available – these are dangers that are much more likely to be avoided by the new breed of tech-savvy individuals who understand the medium now and where it is going, rather than old dinosaurs transferring what worked 10 years ago to a new and much more accountable medium.

Another redesign…

Word up etc… this is my latest version of This time round its built using PHP instead of ASP and the focus is a little more oriented towards my general day-to-day work in XHTML, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and anything interesting I have to say about my Masters that I start next month at Staffordshire University.

As a quick introduction, if you haven’t been on this site before, I’m a web developer in Birmingham working for Attraction World and I’ve worked on the development of several sites, most recently – FloridaTix, AttractionTix.

I’ve been working there since January 2005 and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot in a relatively short space of time and I’ve been fortunate to watch the company grow very quickly and help them produce better and better sites (always room for more improvement though!).