June 2009 Archive
June 26, 2009
The price of principles
In October we're going on holiday to Skala in Kefalonia. We're staying at the Villa Costa, a small family-run hotel with just 7 rooms. Neither of us has been to Greece before and we're really excited about it - it'll be our first holiday for 12 months and it's been a busy year.
Skala wasn't our original destination. Back in January we made a booking for the luxurious Hyatt Regency in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, for the same week in October. It was expensive, but it looked worth it. We've been to Egypt before, cruising from Luxor to Aswan, and were looking forward to exploring Sharm.
Then in April the Egyptian government responded to the outbreak of H1N1 (known by the media as swine flu) by ordering the slaughter of more than 300,000 pigs. Putting aside the issues of potential religious persecution (the vast majority of pigs in Egypt are owned by Coptic Christians, the majority of the country being Muslim and non-pork-eaters), the bad science behind the cull (this is a human pandemic, the virus is not transmitted through pigs), and the potential public health implications (many of the pigs in Egypt are fed on organic waste which will now rot in situ), it was the nature of the cull that appalled us.
Few countries have the facilities to carry out a cull on this scale. The cull of cattle in the UK during the foot and mouth outbreak in spring 2001 showed how ill-prepared we were then. Although large numbers of cattle could be killed in a relatively humane fashion (although even here the use of captive bolt guns and intra-cardial injections was controversial), the logistics of disposing of the carcasses led to vast mass burial sites (up to 500,000 cattle in each) and the unforgettable pyres.
The solution in Egypt? Throw hundreds of live pigs on top of each other into dumper trucks, drive them some distance to mass graves, throw them into the pits and cover them, still alive, in chemicals including quicklime. This results in a lingering, painful death. It's a shocking way to treat any living thing, and as small-scale pig-keepers we know how sensitive pigs are.
Warning - you may find this video distressing.
So last month we cancelled our planned trip to Egypt, paid Sovereigh the 40 quid amendment fee, and saved about £1000 in the process. Some of this went to support Compassion in World Farming, who are campaigning for the Egyptian government to introduce animal welfare legislation outlawing this barbaric treatment of livestock.
June 23, 2009
Yahoo Search Marketing. First Impressions or lack of...
The initial sign-up process was largely uneventful although I'm not sure why all of the networks insist on the creation of a complete campaign, adgroup, keyword list and ad before being able to seriously look at how you're going to structure the account or anything else.
We had established that it was possible to upload our Google campaigns using csv files and chose the most straightforward example as our test - 6 ad groups in a single campaign. The import process starts with an export from the Google Adwords Editor. Top tip here is to only export one campaign at a time, since the Yahoo upload can get a bit lumpy otherwise.
Next you use the Yahoo interface to convert the file to its format before uploading it as a bona fide Sponsored Search campaign. This proved a bit tricky. The interface shows two fields where the link 'download' could be shown, unfortunately if there are errors in your file this lionk only appears in the comments box, and if you don't immediately realise that this combination of box and term are negative you assume all is well and try to continue.
At which point you have your first encounter with the message: 'The upload file you selected does not contain a valid header', which is Yahoo code for "You haven't sorted out the errors yet because you've taken this from the comments field and not the Converted Campaign File field where the nice downloads hang out".
The way you go about breaking the code is to do the same thing 3 or 4 times again before googling (sorry yahooing) the term and surfing the forums and blogs.
So if you're arriving here at this point in a similar journey I can tell you that "the upload file you selected does not contain a valid header" is almost certainly a result of negative keywords in the original Adwords Editor csv - just delete them, start again and you'll be back in business.... or will you?
No, you won't. Yahoo want to check your site out before running your ads and this will take them.... 3-5 business days!!
So our first impressions are, well none yet, unless we're talking about being a customer of Yahoo which, so far, is significantly less impressive than being a customer of their major competitor.
I think I'll go and see what Bing is up to....
June 22, 2009
Turn2us - Anita's story
In May 2007 I started working with Turn2us, a then embryonic charity based in London. Their aim is to help people to to access money and support that is available to them, through benefits, charitable grants and other avenues.
Anita's story encapsulates what Turn2us is about - "Someone's there helping me in my time of need":
This series of videos is their first foray onto YouTube: if you enjoy them and want to support the aims of Turn2us please help to spread the word, or just give a nice rating. Ta.
June 19, 2009
Now the next step... Mooch is currently running 5 accounts with upwards of 3,400 adgroups and even though we've automated 95% of them (more of that in later posts) there's plenty to go at.
Our oldest account celebrates its first birthday on Monday and we've amassed a huge amount of practical knowledge (none of which appeared in the test...) that has made a significant impact on our effectiveness.
The single most important thing for us is (in the words of Douglas Adams) the 'fundamental interconnectedness of all things' that's to say all things in the customer journey. Therein lies the rub, the approaches we get from Search Engine Marketing (SEM) consultants only point at that end of the journey, they often revolve around a very limted number of keywords and they rarely concern themselves with the bigger picture of site structure and customer experience.
So we're thinking that someone needs to properly join the dots and that maybe it's us.....
June 18, 2009
Where I've been, part one
It's about 18 months since Blether was last updated with any regularity, and I thought that an absence of that length deserved some explanation.
Just over two years ago I walked away from my safe, comfortable, gainful employment at Clackmannanshire Council to concentrate on my own business, Champion IS. It's been a big success, and I've been extremely fortunate to work on some fantastically interesting projects with a group of dedicated and talented individuals and companies.
Looking back I wish I'd made the time and found the energy to document that period of my life - I've learned more than I ever expected to, have been to some amazing places, and together with the teams I've worked with produced some quality work. The main reason I didn't post here was a lack of energy - over the past two years I've worked harder and longer hours than ever before, and coupled with an often stupid travel schedule (Johannesburg for the day being the stupidest) it left little for much else than family and sleep.
[As an aside and a preview of some future posts I've got lined up, here's my number one tip for anyone thinking of going freelance: the one thing you need that will earn you more money than anything else is enough sleep. The difference in your productivity between fully charged and dog-tired is exponential.]
My work through Champion IS has been diverse. Most people will know me from my web work in local government at Clacks, through speaking at Public Sector Forums and other events and the occasional bit of writing, and a good deal of my work over the past two years has been in the public sector:
- As a consultant for London Councils during their redevelopment project, helping them develop their vision for their site, produce specifications and procure the most suitable CMS
- As a strategist, most memorably with West Sussex County Council where we did some ground-breaking customer insights work as well.
- As a developer, producing among other things the London Councils Grant Directory and Waterwatch Scotland's new website
- A a trainer with lots of local authorities, most often covering accessibility, the fundamentals of HTML and CSS, and producing accessible PDFs
- As an auditor, producing reports for bodies such as the Care Commission on their use of the web and plans for improvements
There will be case studies of some of these on the Champion IS site in the near future, once I get around to revamping it. We've got a fair bit of new public sector work on the horizon, and one particularly exciting new service in development, more of which anon.
One of the most fortunate and enjoyable working relationships I've developed has been with Landmark Consulting, in particular with the founder Alan Meekings. With Alan I've been fortunate enough to be involved in the birth of a new charity, to brainstorm in the South African bush, and to work with companies like Orange and Money Supermarket. I've also been lucky enough to work with and learn from top-notch web development companies like Reading Room and Clickthinking.
Business continues to be good, I'm having a ball and there's more to tell - in part two I'll talk about how Mooch Marketing came about.
June 16, 2009
I own six suits
My first ever blog..... a bit of an introduction maybe?
I have six suits because until 2 months ago I worked for a bank and suits were the order of the day... every day. I was considered something of a maverick as I mostly eschewed ties but that aside I was a 'suit'.
Now I wear anything really, my wardrobe and my day are my own. At the bank I had a role... I could explain it but we'd both be very bored before I finished - although at one point I was a 'senior leader' but they had to cut the junket numbers and I had that title revoked...
Now I'm a Web Publisher apparently (that's what I told my new bank and they didn't so much as snigger) and I'm talking to the world on a blog. As I look from side to side I see web standards, accessibility and the brave new world of the new economy....
I like it. I like the people who build inaccessibility for others to make accessible and I like wearing shorts and flip flops to work. I love the idea of affiliate marketing and decent price comparison. I'm amazed by Google with their analytics, adwords and webmaster tools.... such wonderful accessibility to every sort of data except that which tells you how (what) Google themselves think.
I think I'm going to like it here amongst the techies. I hope Mooch can do all of the things we want it to because more than anything I hope to throw away my suits....
Here's hoping. Mark.
June 11, 2009
It's been a while
My, has it really been that long?
When things started getting busy with the business, Blether was one of the first things to suffer. That maybe wasn't the wisest decision - apart from helping to make sure people don't forget I exist, blogging is good for your health, IMHO.
There have been many times since September (has it really been that long?) when venting my spleen or sharing a problem, or sharing a solution to a problem on Blether would have made me feel better, and potentially helped someone else feel better too.
Enough angst, Blether is in the process of resurrection (a few months too late to benefit from any Easter traffic) and is returning in some form. I'll be blethering (see what I did there, eh?) about different things, and being joined by my 'bro Mark. We're working together on various projects now, and this wind-swept, derelict place seemed like the ideal vehicle.
So thank you both for reading, there will be