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Small business owner? What you need to know about online reviews and why they’re so important

June 21, 2011 by Paul Stamp

It’s time to book a holiday. You know where you’d like to go, when you can spare the time and the type of place you’d like to stay at.

So what’s the next step? If only you could get a bit more of an insight into the array of hotels on offer — find out what real people have had to say about the location, the facilities and exactly which sort of holidaymakers it could suit — before making your choice.

Of course, reviews of things like hotels, as well as bars and restaurants, are readily available online from a range of websites. But because consumers are now more than happy to include browsing through reviews before picking a business as part of the overall buying process, other sites have grown in popularity too.

It’s fair to say that, increasingly, businesses of all shapes and sizes — such as plumbers, double glazing installers and driving instructors — are being reviewed online. It’s becoming the norm.

Think of it as transporting your testimonials from behind the counter, where only people already through the door can see them, and making them visible to everyone.

So what do I need to know about reviews?

In a nutshell, they are happening, people trust them and they can have a big impact on your business. But with a little understanding of just how good they can be for you, they can be overwhelmingly positive.

Why are they so important?

Time for some stats:

  • 79 per cent of online UK retailers reported that the main benefit of consumer-generated rating and reviews was that they improved site conversion rates. (eMarketer, 2007)
  • Consumer reviews are 12 times more trusted than product or service descriptions. (eMarketer EXPO Purchaser Influence Survey, 2010)
  • 70 per cent of UK internet users trust recommendations from strangers when looking for information about goods and services online. (Neilsen Global Online Consumer Survey, 2009)

So I should be asking customers to review my business?

Yes! Encourage your satisfied customers to post reviews on websites because it will differentiate you from your competitors, help build trust and show that you are a real business doing real trade. Reviews are your positive word-of-mouth amplified.

Any business listed on Yell can be reviewed – take a look at To find out more, and to get some free promo materials to encourage people to rate you on the site, visit the reviews section of

This post is the first of three on online reviews — stay tuned for the next update on managing negative reviews and how they can even be good for your business.

Paul Stamp is the community manager at Yell. For small business video guides, advice and information, follow @yellbusiness on Twitter.

Be honest - is your website up to scratch?

June 17, 2011 by Sian Lenegan

Website WWW

There are so many ways a website can be used as a business tool. To start with main business objective should always lead the brief for any website design project. Write it in capital letters at the top of every page if you have to!

To give you an idea of how powerful a business tool your company website can be and get those creative ideas flowing, your website can: free up manpower, answer questions at all hours, provide simple information for people to find you, publicise events and products, show off your awards and news, take orders online and much more.

In any way that you look at your company website, it should shadow the effectiveness of any referral, direct marketing or advertising campaigns.

The real question is what your website should be doing for your customers?

Service! A good website should provide a good service, the same as a good employee. Think of your website as your show room or shop window, it’s a representation of your business.

Your company website is how people find you, where they go to find more information and make comparisons. Just like a first date, those first impressions are very important.

Track and measure feedback

Use your website to track your visitors and measure their feedback, this will help you to make decisions about additions, changes and upgrades too. Here are some of the measures we recommend are part of your company’s quarterly review and KPIs:

  • Number of visitors (new vs. old)
  • How long does each visitor spend on your website
  • What pages are viewed the most
  • Where visitors are from
  • What are your biggest referring websites

These are all important and part of the bigger picture — do you know how many visitors on average translate into an enquiry and how many web enquiries convert into customers? This is the first step in calculating your website’s return on investment.

Your website must encourage people to act

Encourage action. It’s important to define this first and the creative brief of any website should be based around:

  • What you want your visitors to look at on the website
  • What you want them to do when they leave your website
  • What you want them to remember most about your website

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin to develop an action-oriented website right from the home page. Take a peak at the Microsoft home page, every piece of text is written with the objective to bring you deeper into their website.

It may sound like common sense but it’s crucial to make sure it’s easy for customers to get in touch with you. Put your phone number in a clear and obvious place and provide several different ways for people to get in touch (your website is open 24/7). Usability research suggests that users are accustomed to finding a phone number within the footer of the website on the right hand side.

Is your website a star or should it be heading for retirement?

Answer the following questions and be honest with yourself, no one is judging you:

  • Does your website communicate everything about your business that it should?
  • Do you regularly measure your website’s success?
  • Does your website have your current products, services and pricing?
  • Is your address, phone number and email address easily visible?
  • Does your website provide a positive brand experience? Is it professional and well-suited to your business image and values?
  • Does your website answer all known questions easily and clearly?
  • Does your website stand head and shoulders above the competition?
  • Does your website include current job vacancies and openings posted?

If you can answer yes to all these questions, then you get a gold star and your website gets two gold stars! For the rest of us (yes I mean us), it’s great to wake up and smell the coffee from time to time and refocus on what’s important.

Typically small to medium sized businesses make their website when they first open up and it never gets a look in again. Maybe your website is one your cousin made for you or one of those cookie cutter websites you hashed together. Let’s face it, this isn’t how you’d treat your star sales person.

What your website won’t do for you

It won’t generate content by itself, it won’t analyse your business and intuitively know which product or service to promote and it won’t be able to discover what makes your service unique and better than the competition.

This is my rather long-winded way of saying — “what you put in, is what you get out.”  So make the most of it and understand that not just any old website will do… your website needs to be worthy of your business image.

Sian Lenegan is account director at Sixth Story.

Read more on developing your website:

Posted in Online marketing | Tagged website | 0 comments

Loyalty schemes — the elephant in the room?

June 17, 2011 by

ElephantNow and again at SellerDeck we get asked whether our ecommerce software includes functionality to support a loyalty scheme. The answer is no, and there are very good reasons why we have not developed it. I thought the rationale would be worth sharing more widely. If you’re considering developing a loyalty for your own site, it might just persuade you otherwise.

Firstly, loyalty schemes don’t produce loyalty. Most people have multiple loyalty cards, and use them promiscuously. The level of reward — usually about one per cent — is pretty minimal. One special offer can save more money than the loyalty points on your entire weekly shop. So people take advantage of the schemes because they are free and painless to use. But they don’t influence where people shop on any given occasion.

Consequently, the term loyalty is a really misnomer. If loyalty is what you’re looking for, a loyalty scheme won’t deliver that.

The main advantage of loyalty schemes to the large chains is in the data they make available. Every time you present a reward card you identify yourself personally at the checkout. This enables the company to track a huge range of data, both for individuals, and for particular demographics. Your supermarket knows how often you shop, and where. It knows your average weekly spend. It knows your family diet, what items you purchase regularly, and how often. In consumables and FMCG, this enables large companies to follow market trends very closely, react to changes quickly, and target their merchandising according to local and temporal preferences and trends.

That’s great if you are a large chain with multiple branches, a website and maybe a mail order channel as well. If all you have is a website, it’s pointless. You can already identify regular customers from your orders database, and mine the same kind of data directly from that.

So given that a loyalty scheme doesn’t deliver loyalty, costs time and money to operate and doesn’t give you anything that you don’t already have – doesn’t it start to look like one huge white elephant in the room?

Bruce Townsend is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and online marketing specialist at SellerDeck.

Read more in our dedicated section on customer loyalty.

Posted in Customer care | 1 comment

Feeding the beast – five quick tips to satisfy the content generation monster

June 16, 2011 by Sonja Jefferson

There is a growing recognition amongst the business fraternity that the days of the static, brochure-style website are dead and buried. All hail the living, breathing, regularly-updated website and resource hub — packed full of up-to-the-minute news, views, opinions and downright valuable content.

No doubt you can see the benefits of this kind of approach — loved in equal measure by your contacts, clients and Google’s spiders too. So you work really hard to set up a new updateable website, populated with said news, views, opinions and good content. It looks great, clients say they love it and you start to see traffic and leads.

And then it dawns on you — the hard work doesn’t stop here. You’ve got to keep on feeding the monster: new blog articles; fresh ideas; latest case studies; daily tweets; monthly newsletters; emails; resources; downloads; writing and so it goes on.

You’re facing the challenge of constant content creation. It’s a strategic problem that every company will need to think through in the coming years. How do you ensure that you continue to come up with high quality written content on what you do?

There’s no easy answer but the following ideas should help you:

1. Little and often

Make time. Recognise that this is of vital importance to your business and set aside time every day or week to write. Block time out in your diary, switch off your email and phone and hang a large “Do not disturb” sign on your door. Get the writing done.

2. Share the problem

Portion out the work to make it more achievable. A very organised, clear-thinking client of mine has set up a content writing rota. Each of his designated subject matter experts takes his or her turn to produce a new article every two weeks. With six subject matter experts that is one post every three months – now that’s achievable.

3. Shortcuts to good content

Make the task of creating content easier for yourself. Mix it up – share other people’s opinions alongside your own or invite good guest bloggers to contribute.

Another shortcut is to repurpose existing content. Remember – you don’t always have to start from scratch. Sales proposals for example are a fantastic source of inspiration for your articles, and you’ve already done the hard work of answering client queries. Repackaging some of this content for an article takes half the time. Find a way of writing more efficiently.

4. Create a content writing role

Make this someone’s job. Add the role to the your organisation’s structure chart.  

NB: Finding someone who can write well is not enough. This person will need enough insight, empathy and curiosity to ask the right question, to understand and respond to your customers’ issues and deliver your unique message. It’s a fascinating job that will really bring benefit.

5. Outsource the problem

Another approach is to engage the services of an external content expert. (You had a feeling I’d put this in, didn’t you?) Their independence will give them objectivity. The right freelance content writer will come up with a fresh approach to delight your customers and get you maximum exposure.

Choose carefully. You’ll get the best results from a long-term relationship with someone who quickly understands your message, recognises the needs of your target audience and communicates this with interest and clarity. Oh – and it helps if they are easy to work with too!

What is your strategy?

Don’t bury your head in the sand. Constant content generation is a growing necessity for professional businesses in today’s web-based, social media driven world. So, how will you feed the content generation monster?

Sonja Jefferson is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and marketing consultant for Valuable Content.

Read more on writing website content:

In social media, listening is key... but only if you act on it

June 14, 2011 by Emily Leary

So social media isn't about broadcast. OK, yes.

Social media is all about listening? Ummm, well yes but…

It's not just about listening, it's about acting on it too, isn't it?

Think I'm being facetious? (I am, of course, but bear with me).

You can use social listening to work out what the overall sentiment is about your brand, to understand what customers want and to see where your industry is headed etc. But all of that hard “listening” work is for nothing if you're sticking those learnings in a folder marked “insight” somewhere instead of acting on them promptly.

If you see a flurry of customers report on consumer forums that they're unhappy with your new product because it's developing a common fault. Do you:

a) Act quickly to turn their perceptions around with apologies, fixes, refunds and/or replacements, as appropriate

b) Quickly put in place a procedure to make the fix/returns policy much simpler for customers, so they rarely feel the need to vent online

c) Head off any potential (social) media storm by preparing a statement on what went wrong, that you're sorry and all that you're doing to fix it

d) Feed your learnings from customer comments back into the product cycle, to improve the product itself as quickly as possible

e) Collate all your learnings from the whole experience, and use that to do better business in future?

The answer, in my humble opinion, is a, b, c, d and e. 

I could say this about any form of research/insight, really. Listen, and be ready to act. 

Emily Leary (formerly Cagle) is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and a communications consultant and blogger.

What every SEO can learn from Drayton Bird

June 14, 2011 by John Straw

Twenty years ago I discovered Drayton Bird and his book Common Sense Direct Marketing.

What I loved most about direct marketing was how developing direct relationships with prospects could be scientific, measurable and very accountable. What you could then do it use a combination acquired knowledge, best practice and creative marketing to maximise on-going response and revenues.

So what has this got to do with you? Paid search experts use these skills every day. They may not know they are using 30-year-old skills, but at least they are using them. The same is true of email marketers.

In my opinion, SEO experts and especially link builders are not aware enough of these skills and how direct marketing can help them beat the competition, and they should be.

What I am suggesting now is that every business should reconnect with Direct Marketing and Drayton Bird now, and here is why.

How do you maximise link-building response rates?

The main method of outreach for a link builder is email. Direct mail professionals will tell you that the ingredients that define what kind of response you’re going to get to your attempt to engage with another individual in order of importance are:

  • List
  • Offer
  • Timing
  • Creative

Let me take each of these in turn and apply them to SEO with a view to increasing your SEO performance.

The list

Generating a list of backlinks from the common and openly available link list providers gives you nothing more than a poorly targeted cold call list capable of generating you a poor response rate to any offer or creative you approach them with.

Why? Because you’ve not been able to clean, profile and segment the data according to criteria that are important to your specific campaign. A process used and perfected by direct mail specialists when most of us reading this were at school.

So if you work through poorly qualified lists of links, STOP. Think about how accurate, segmentable, and responsive those lists really are. Would be better-spent using much better data sources?

The offer

Matching what you want to say to sell to the target audience has a huge impact on conversion. If blogger outreach is your strategy, aren’t you better just talking to bloggers that have a history of linking to sites like yours? If you want to get links from curated resource pages, aren’t you better off talking to webmasters of sites that create and curate resources? You get the idea.


When I planned press media, Monday was the best day for response and it reduced in a straight lined as the week went on. I’ve seen some email marketing data to suggest a similar thing happens. I also know some brilliant PPC specialists who adjust campaigns by month, week, day and hour to maximise response.

I also know that PR specialists are very time-aware. They think a great deal about when is best to place a story, taking into account the new agenda of the day or week, the seasonality of a specific market, or the editorial agenda of the publication being targeted.

Time is likely to apply to your efforts the question is how and can you use it to maximise each campaign’s effectiveness.

The creative

Finally we get to the creative— whether you’re sending out emails, press releases, or even commenting. What you say and how you say it will matter hugely. It’s of no surprise that Drayton has also written a book on writing sales letters that sell.

What are you saying and is it really going to get the best response rate possible? Are you testing and measuring different techniques for achieving your goals?

Which brings me back to where I started. I think we can all learn from Drayton, and I think we should invest in the best data available to pitch relevant offers at the right time with smart responsive creative. We should then measure the response rate and carry on engaging with our new link partners. All Common Sense Direct Marketing!

John Straw is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and the founder and VP of Business Development of Linkdex.

Want to read more about Drayton Bird?

Drayton is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut. Here are a few of his inspirational articles and blogs:

Have you got an addiction to discounting?

Are you talking to me? Getting the right tone of voice in your customer communication

35 things I have found to be almost always true

How much can you afford to spend on marketing?

Want to get results? - ditch the jargon

Enough about me — let’s talk about you

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