Tuesday, April 26, 2011

7 NEW Tips for Running a Twitter Giveaway

I've written before about running competitions for link building, but given the increasingly important role of Twitter in online marketing and SEO, it's time to address a popular mechanic: Twitter competitions.
Historically, there were two particular reasons to run competitions through Twitter: firstly to increase the number of followers (and hence, the influence) of a Twitter account. The other important reason was usually branding: a competition that successfully 'goes viral' would introduce the brand and the website to huge numbers of new people.
However, now that social media data is used by search engines and appears to have some influence in their rankings, sites like Twitter are no longer just an adjunct to search marketing - but must be a part of SEO strategy.
Various posts abound with guidance for running a competition on the site, including from Mashable and Social Mouths. These focus mainly on the 'older reasons' for running a competition, but the workflow is still similar: define the prize, the start & end dates and - crucially - the entry mechanism.
The method of entering might be one of:
  • following a particular account
  • mentioning the account name in a tweet
  • using a particular hashtag in a tweet
  • retweeting a whole message
At the most basic level, if we're actually going to get any SEO value from the competition, then we need the entrants to include a link to a particular page on the site, which leads us to:
Tip 1: People should link to the site from their tweet as a way of entering the competition.
Great, now we're getting on Google's radar with some social links to our site. You could implement this by giving people an exact tweet to copy and paste, but the requirements could be as simple as having to mention the company twitter account and a given URL in your tweet to be entered.
Links to the site are good, but if this competition is going to generate a real rankings bump for the linked page, then it makes sense to put this weight behind a real landing page. This could be done by tying the giveaway into a particular product or category from the site, then putting the promotion instructions on that product landing page, and making *that* the page that people should link to in their tweets.
Tip 2: A landing page from the site should also carry the competition information, and be the page that entrants link to.
After the competition has ended, this page will have the benefit of any weblinks / social links generated during the competition. (In addition, doing this keeps you white hat and above board - in contrast to the 'bait and switch' pulled by some sites who run a competition or publish link bait on a URL which is later 301ed to a commercial landing page - leaving lots of sites unwittingly linking to pages that they never intended to.)
You can see this tactic in use at the moment by Food Service Warehouse, they're running a bar supplies competition, right there on the related category page.
Food Service Warehouse screenshot
On a related note: if you're getting hundreds of people to link to a page for you, it'd be a shame not to take advantage of getting targetted anchor text as well. One way to do this is to make sure that the competition has a name that you'll be happy with people using to link to it
In an old post about getting domain diversity and good anchor text, I made two recommendations that could be useful here: firstly give the competition a name that will benefit you when people link to the competion.
These giveaways from Nordstrom were branded diferently - the second giveaway in the list received richer anchor text from links than the one show above.
A second suggestion - which is particularly relevant to running a promotion on Twitter - is to take advantage of using a short URL with keywords in it. For example, the competition above could have used http://bit.ly/bartending-set instead, to get some keyword rich links.
Tip 3: Get good anchor text by using a relevant name for the promotion, and using keyword-rich short URLs.
When it comes to promoting the sweepstake, the first people to reach out to are Twitter users that are interested in the type of prize that you're giving away.
Tip 4: Search for relevant Twitter users, to tell them about the promotion.
You can search for people by interest on Twitter - type a phrase into search, then click on the 'People' tab. For example: people on Twitter with an interest in 'home brewing'.
Alternatively, FollowerWonk is a third-party service that does a brilliant job of mining Twitter user data to find appropriate people to talk to.
FollowerWonk's list of users interested in 'home brewing'
NB: if you're logged into FollowerWonk with the account you're promoting, it'll also tell you which of the listed users already follow you.
There are various resources that go into depth about doing outreach via Twitter. It's unnecessary for me to cover that again now, suffice to say: please don't be a spammer! You're running these promtions to help your brand and SEO; this is no time to ruin the company's reputation.
Beyond doing outreach to relevant Twitter users, it's also appropriate to do regular link building, and traditional online outreach to appropriate webmasters / bloggers. This step shouldn't be overlooked, as promoting a good giveaway should be easier and more effective than trying to get links to any kind of commercial content. Which leads us to:
Tip 5: Just because the sweepstake relies on Twitter as a mechanic, you can still do traditional link building.
The sweepstake niche also has a lot of dedicated directories and listing services that you can submit to. These might be good for SEO, but are usually excellent at sending large numbers of people who can enter the competition (and in the process, promote the Twitter account and create social links to the site.)
As well as the sites I listed on this post, sites like CompetitionHuter.com, SweepsAdvantage and Online-Sweepstakes are worth looking at. (The latter sent very healthy traffic to a competition we recently ran, when the giveaway was added to the site by a member.)
While all this is going on, you'll be able to see entrants mentioning the company account name in the @replies tab or Twitter's internal search. However, this information isn't easy to parse and will disappear relatively soon.
Tip 6: Monitor discussion of & entries to the giveaway while it's in process, and record this data for use later on.
It's worth using a service that will monitor and record all this on your behalf. Right now, Distilled is using Rowfeeder, and I'd definitely recommend it.
The service monitors Twitter for particular account names and hashtags, stores all those tweets for you, creates useful charts/graphs and (perhaps the simplest feature, but one that I really like) will dump all the information into a Google Docs spreadsheet for you, in real time.
Depending on how the promotion is run, this data might be useful while it's in progress - e.g.: to track the viral spread around the country / the world (since RowFeeder stores user location if it's available) - but it's worth storing the data to process after the event. In fact, that should probably be a tip as well:
Tip 7: After the promotion, analyze the people who entered or mentioned it on Twitter; look for any relationships that could be nurtured.
An example here would be to look for the most prominent users that entered, or any entrants who are particularly influential in their niche. It would be worth sending them a message (via Twitter, email or otherwise) to properly introduce yourself, and try to foster a relationship with them.

I expect we're about to see increased interest in Twitter competitions in the next few months (and the same could be said for Facebook promotions that are aimed at getting SEO benefit, though that's another post) - I hope these tips help you stay ahead of the pack and make sure you get as much SEO-bang-for-your-buck as possible.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Validation Era

If there's a clear lesson that emerged out of the past decade, it's this: you can have too much of a good thing. Our excesses get corrected and sometimes in dramatic fashion. This too includes our current obsession with all things social. There are early signs that the social media boom is fraying at the edges and that we are entering a new age of intimacy.

Don't just take it from me. If you dig into media consumption patterns and, in particular, who the public considers an authority, you can see the signs. History is also your guide. Big shifts occur around every eight years.

Back during the Internet's first age, the Commercialization Era (1994 - 2002), only deep-pocketed corporations were able to establish themselves as authoritative sources. During this time big media companies and a handful of well-capitalized first movers, like Yahoo, became our trusted sources.


The dot-com crash and the glut bandwidth and storage, in part, created an environment that gave rise to social media and the Democratization Era. This age, which began in earnest in 2002, started with blogs, then branched out to include Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and, of course, Facebook. The end result is that anyone and everyone could command authority. Brands rushed in too as not to get left behind.


Now, however, we have a new challenge: people overload. This is leaving us gasping for quality.

Perhaps driven by peer pressure, the public - brands included - have been engaging in a friends arms race. Now there are signs that we know we overdid it. The result is that we are now entering a new age - The Validation Era.


Consider that according to a study conducted by GoodMobilePhones, people don't know 20 percent of their Facebook friends. Or that USA Today recently reported that social media users are 'grappling with overload.' Finally, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, my employer's annual tracking study, notes that experts are now far more trusted than peers and friends. This is a dramatic shift from 2006 when the opposite rang true.

In the Validation Era, intimacy is in and publicness may be out - or at least on the decline. Quality is the new black. What this means that both individuals and businesses will need to increasingly work harder to earn their way in and remain in our stakeholders' circle of trust.

One sure sign of this trend is entrepreneurs, who naturally, are among the first to spot opportunities.

During the last few months, a host of intimate social networks have started to attract attention from the public, the media and investors. Many are tied to texting. These emerging players include Path, Beluga (now part of Facebook), Instagram, GroupMe and others.

While it's still early and these services are still nascent, the fact that there's even a market for such networks indicates change is on the horizon. Recall that many of us could not see the true impact of the Democratization Era until the mid-2000s. Startups saw it first. Should this trend hold, and I believe it will, there are at least three potential implications.

First, companies that take a liberal approach to social media will benefit the most. The reason is that as workers personally forge more intimate connections, it will benefit their employers as well.

Second, in the Validation Era, expertise rules. Businesses that activate their domain-level experts to share their knowledge across several spheres of media, will likely to see their ideas penetrate more private networks, either first-hand or through pass-alongs.

Finally, given that intimate social networks do not offer the same reach as wider platforms like Facebook, some of them will potentially explore gently partnering with major brands. GroupMe, for example, recently rolled out several branded partners, including MTV.

Ultimately what this all means is that the ante to stand out is only going up. Many of the conversations that influence buying decisions will become invisible to us, after years of being out in the open. Pure-play advertising-centric campaigns that overlook the power of validated messages will simply be ignored - either by audiences directly or, worse, by algorithms. And social media will need to become one percent of 100 people's job, rather than just 100% of a one.

What do users want from iPhone apps?

Broadly speaking, customers want apps with a purpose, and that reflect the values of the brand, according to a new benchmark study of iPhone apps.

The eDigital App Benchmark study looks at 46 iPhone apps, using 'mystery shopper' surveys. These include mobile commerce apps, travel apps, news and media and directory and guide apps.

The study provides some useful information about the kind of features users are looking for from apps...

News apps

News apps achieved the highest overall scores from users in the study:

What was good about these apps?

From news apps, users were looking for simple and easy to use navigation and up to date content, while video content was well liked by reviewers.

The Sky apps, which both feature in the top four, have plenty of video content, and the Sky Sports app was praised for its use of video and image to enhance the articles.


Users disliked having to open up Safari to view articles in full, as was the case with the Yahoo app. It also means that they had to reopen the app after they had read something. Articles should be available to view within the app.

Another criticism was the lack of content on offer. Users want to see a broad range of articles across a number of topics.

There are some good news apps missing from this category though, such as those from the BBC, Guardian, and Telegraph.

Directory and information apps

These apps are potentially very useful for people on the move, but this turned out to be the lowest performing category.

What are people looking for from directory apps?

The reviewers appreciated features such as maps which plotted the positions of businesses and services they had searched for.

They also want shortcuts that make searches easier and reduce the amount of typing they need to do, such as using the iPhone's GPS to search for services near the user's current location.

Detailed information and descriptions of businesses and locations, along with user reviews helped people to make a decision.

What are the problems?

Slow loading times was a major issue for the mystery shoppers. The nature of directory and guide apps means that they are used when people are out and about, and this perhaps means they are more vulnerable to variable connection speeds.

Among the worst marks were for those that used the apps merely as a portal to mobile sites, which defeats the purpose of an app.

The RAC Traffic app was marked down for poor usability, difficulty searching for traffic updates by postcode or city, and the lack of traffic alerts.

Mobile commerce apps

What did users like about mobile commerce apps?

Customers were looking for a similar experience on apps to that on desktop e-commerce sites, meaning the same stock availability, product information, and the ability to make a purchase.

Mobile usability is crucial, and the best apps were praised for ease of navigation and good filtering functionality.

Not surprisingly, Amazon was the top rated retail app, and this is because it ticks most of these boxes. The product pages are detailed, and most items contain plenty of reviews, while it has an easy payment process. If you already have an account (and plenty of its customers do), then making a purchase is very quick.

People also like the barcode scanning features on some of these apps. Amazon's has this, as does the recently released Debenhams app.

Drawbacks of retail apps

The Sainsbury's app received the lowest score, and this is because people are not able to make a purchase, just view store details and offers.

As the report points out, people who have downloaded a retailer's app are more likely to be engaged with the brand, and not providing a route to purchase is a missed opportunity.

Other criticisms included limited stock, in the case of the House of Fraser Gift app, and a lack of product photos and information on the Interflora app.

Hotel apps

What did people like about these apps?

Booking.com was the top app here, thanks to an attractive design, good usability, and the ability to actually make a booking through the app.

Users want good information about hotels, including clear photos and customer ratings. These features help people make a decision about which hotel to use.

Geo location features which show nearby hotels on a map and provide directions were valued by users.

Where are these apps going wrong?

The lack of customer reviews and contextual information about the local area (things to see and do, restaurants etc) was a common criticism.

People also wanted to be able to make a booking through the app. One of the reasons that the Hotels app was marked down was that it directed users to an external website. It also didn't show availability.

To see more, download the App Benchmark study from eDigital Research (registration required).


How to use Google Analytics to find the best time to send emails

In my experience, the day of the week and hour of the day at which marketing emails are sent is often based on little more than the gut feeling of the email marketer and the performance of previous emails, rather than real data.

As someone who could put the anal in analytics, I think that's a rather inexact science. Surely there's a more accurate way to figure out whether the assumption is really true?

There are clearly some days of the week and hours of the day that result in higher conversion rates than others. So theoretically, if you can get your email marketing to your customers' inboxes at the time they're most likely to convert, or just before, your efforts should result in better conversion rates and more revenue.

Fortunately, there is a better way to determine the optimum mailing time, rather than using gut instinct - you can do it via Google Analytics.

However, it's actually surprisingly challenging to pull this data out of GA.

In fact, it's currently not at all trivial, without resorting to some advanced segmentation and some ingenious interface hacks that allow you to use Analytics in a way in which Google never intended.

On the plus side, no coding is required. It can all be done via your browser.

Step 1: Create your segments

In order to find the time of the day at which your site's conversion rate is at its highest you'll need to create some advanced segments to separate transactions into time period segments.

You can make as many of these as you want, but for a reasonably accurate picture three or four ought to suffice. I went for morning (7am-12am), afternoon (12am-5pm) and out of hours (5pm-7am).

If you notice that the out of hours segment seems to provide particularly good conversion rates you may want to add an additional segment for the evening, splitting the day into quarters, giving you slightly more precision.

To create these advanced segments click Advanced Segments > All Visits > Create a new advanced segment. Then click Dimensions > Visitors > Hour of the day and drag the bar to the "dimension or metric" placeholder at the top. Click the "and" link and drag a second Hour of the day bar to the "dimension or metric" placeholder.

Enter the time periods into each field to segment the traffic up according to the time period. Or, to save yourself the time and effort, just click the links below and the segments will automatically be added to your Google Analytics account.

Step 2: Finding the best time

Go to Advanced segments > All visits > Custom segments, then check each of the segments you just added or created, then click Apply.

Now click the Ecommerce button on the left hand navigation. At the top you should see the All visits conversion rate, and the three conversion rates for the time segments you just added. If one of them is better than the others, then that is when you should send your email.

Use the date widget to check different weeks, months or extend the length to cover a year or more, if you've got sufficient data, so you can double-check that the data you're observing is consistent.

Once you've identified your peak conversion rate time window, it's worth drilling-down a bit further, so go back to the advanced segments tool and create some extra segments for the time periods that fall within.

This will allow you to determine whether the highest conversion rates occur at 7-9am, 9-10am or 10am-12am. You'll want to time your mailing so that it covers all of the peak conversion rate times.

Step 3: Hack your browser

Given that we've just made advanced segments to visualise time periods with relative ease, you'd think it would be straightforward to do the same for days of the week. But you'd be wrong.

Finding the best day of the week is the particularly tricky bit! I scratched my head for quite a while on this one, and I don't think it's even currently possible to do this in GA at the moment - at least not without some browser witchcraft.

The current interface of Google Analytics doesn't allow you to compare data for specific days of the week to see which one provides the best historic conversion rate, because there's no dimension for it.

Weirdly, the day of the week dimension functionality does appear to exist within the GA software, but it appears not to be enabled.

However, it is possible to hack the GA interface to get at the dimensions Google doesn't provide in the current version, which allows you to analyse data in ways the average GA user wouldn't be able to do.

This sounds really complicated, but you can actually pull it off very easily using Firefox and a couple of browser plugins: Greasemonkey and Google Analytics Report Enhancer from ROI Revolution.

Simply install Greasemonkey, restart your browser then click this Google Analytics Report Enhancer link and Greasemonkey will install a browser hack. When you next visit the Google Analytics site you should see an additional logo next to the GA one at the top left.

Step 4: Finding the best day of the week

To find the day of the week that has the highest conversion rate, go to Traffic Sources > Search Engines, then click the Sources button in the first column of the table.
This will open a mega menu style drop down and you should see a link called "Day of the week" under "Custom variable keys". Click it, then click the Ecommerce tab.

You should now see a list of days of the week, along with the metrics for each one - including the all importance ecommerce conversion rate.
Pick the one with the highest conversion rate, or the one which spans a few days with high conversion rates.
Combine this with the hour of the day data from the earlier steps and you've now pinpointed the theoretical optimum time to send your email marketing.

Helpful tips

  • Create advanced segments for distinct time periods and drill-down where required in order to get greater precision.

  • Use Google Analytics Report Enhancer to add extra functionality to Google Analytics.

  • Determine the best time of day and day of the week based on the best e-commerce conversion rate for your site. Chances are, it will differ from site to site.

  • Check your data before acting upon it. Look at multiple months, just in case it's a seasonal effect.

  • Use GARE to check the best days of the month. Does conversion rate go up around pay day?

  • Do a split test on your email database to see if there's any improvement in its performance. If it works, and you can repeat the experiment successfully, go with it.

  • If you spot a pattern, also consider trying a similar thing with PPC ads. Bid up when conversion rates are high. Reduce bids when they're low.


How To Measure Facebook Page Engagement

How To Measure Facebook Page Engagement: "

Are you trying to figure out how much your fans really like you or your brand? This guide outlines a few things you should never miss when monitoring your Facebook page performance.

Monitoring Active Users

While most companies pay attention to the number of fans as the greatest metric of success, measuring your active users is much more important. Fortunately, Facebook provides detailed information about daily, weekly, and monthly active users on your page. You can find this information in tFacebook’s insights area. While these numbers will differ from one page to the next, the most important thing is to strive to increase the number of active users you have.

The best way to accomplish this is to post regular high-quality updates that get users to post comments and likes.

Daily Story Feedback

While engagement numbers include the number of impressions you get on each post, your ultimate goal should be to boost likes and comments on each posting. Compelling content that drives people to respond to your posts is important to boosting your overall numbers. Ultimately, the more your fans engage with your content, the more people that will see it. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by asking questions which generate a significant response from your fans.

You can monitor all interactions on the main insights page as pictured below.

If you aren’t receiving comments or likes (relative to the size of your overall fan base), there’s a good chance that you’ll begin to see your post impressions drop. As such, comments and likes are the most important metrics to focus on.

Top Stories

Rather than just viewing overall content, you can also view the success of each individual post. Facebook provides data for each individual posting that you can view at the bottom of each story you publish (as highlighted below).

While viewing each post’s insights will provide a decent amount of feedback, your top posts will help provide the most insight on what type of content your fans are most responsive to. Overtime you should be able to post similar content that generates greater responses from your fan base and effectively boost your overall engagement and reach. By clicking on details next to the “Interactions” area pictured above, you can get to the top posts area.

I prefer to sort by Feedback (as pictured below) in order to determine what posts were most effective. Replicating this content should hopefully result in a greater response from your fans.

Like Acquisition Channels

While the first thing you should focus on is increasing engagement among your existing fan base, you’ll want to also expand your reach. This comes through optimizing your various fan acquisition channels. Fortunately, Facebook provides detailed information about where your new fans are coming from. By visiting your insights area and then navigating to the area labeled “users,” you’ll be able to view the new likes sources chart (pictured below).

You should focus on two things: your largest sources and those sources with the greatest room for improvement. For our page, our blog is the greatest source of new fans. As such, we focus on optimizing the placement of likes around our website. For some pages, suggestions are the greatest source. For those pages, asking fans to refer their friends to your page can have significant results.

Monitor And Adjust

As you monitor your insights, you can make adjustments to the types of content you post over time. This can include the types of media (photos, videos, links/articles, status updates, etc), the time of day, and the frequency of posting. I highly recommend exporting this data to excel or another spreadsheet tool in order to track your performance over time. Alternatively, you can sign up for a free account with our AllFacebook Stats product which lets you track your page performance and your competitors’ page performance over time and export that data if necessary.

Do you have any questions or suggestions for other page administrators? Please post them in the comments section below!


How To Succeed At Facebook Page Marketing

If you want your fans to see your posts and interact with them, and if you want your page to be a positive place that helps you get more business, this post is for you.

How you manage your Facebook page is critical! If you do it well, the benefits are:

  • Engagement: Greater interaction

  • Visibility: Facebook shows your posts to more of your fans

  • Free fans: You get more fans for free — one Fortune 1000 company combining good advertising and engagement tactics got more than half of their fans for free.

  • Testimonials: Your fans become so positive that they give spontaneous testimonials which convince fans who are still just prospects how great you are

  • Reputation protetction: Overwhelming positivity on a fan page wards off negative attacks from critics and provides volunteer defenders

But if you post haphazardly, with no plan and no best practices, the risks are:

  • Silence: Your posts are ignored

  • Invisibility: Fewer fans see your posts (as few as 20 percent)

  • Higher costs: Your fan acquisition cost can be doubled because you miss out on the word-of-mouth potential

Underlying this fan page marketing strategy is the fact that: Your Facebook page posts are unlikely to be seen by fans who never like or comment on your posts.

Have you ever thought, “Oh, hey I haven’t seen so-and-so on Facebook lately!” and you go to their page and there is plenty they’ve posted that you haven’t seen?

You haven’t interacted with them enough for Facebook to know you care. So you comment or like something they’ve posted, and next thing you know, you’re seeing them in your news feed again.

That’s EdgeRank. Like it or hate it, you need interaction to remain visible.

Arousing Fans’ Desire for What You Offer

Don’t forget that all Fan Page posting is in the “D” phase of the AIDA marketing process.

Your job as a Facebook page marketer is to stimulate discussion and arouse DESIRE so that people are more likely to take action and buy or become a lead. In Social Media, strong sales messages are turn offs, so you need to work harder on the DESIRE phase.

How To Get More Interaction On Facebook Pages

With that in mind, how can you increase fan interaction with your Facebook page?

  • Questions

  • Contests

  • Interesting Content

  • Formulas

Ask Questions

Keep it simple (I like to call Facebook Marketing “No-Brainer Marketing” because complexity blocks comprehension and responses) and ask them about the Dream.

What is the Dream? It’s what your product or service makes possible for them. It’s not just the “benefits” aspect of copywriting terminology, but how they’d like their life or business to be and that your offering helps make possible for them.

For example: if you’re in real estate, instead of just talking about houses, talk about living by the lake, or living on the ocean, or a great safe fun neighborhood for kids. You might then ask questions like:

  • What do you look for in a neighborhood for your kids?

  • Would you enjoy living on a lake? Why or why not?

  • Woohoo! Walking from my house to the beach with my boogie board! What would you do at the beach today if you lived on the Ocean?


I’m not a big fan of contests for fan building, because unless the contest is built to only attract relevant fans, you get a lot of untargeted prize-seekers who probably aren’t your real prospects.

Facebook ads are the best way to build fans. Our Facebook marketing students who get profits all have used Facebook ads to target only people who are good prospects for their offerings.

But if you want to excite your existing fans and arouse their desire for your product, why not give one away? The people who enter and don’t win have effectively told themselves they really want it. If they don’t win, they’re more likely to buy than they were before the contest.

Interesting Content

Your job on the Facebook page is to lead the conversation.

To stimulate people, you need conversation pieces. Just like people put interesting objects on a coffee table or in their home to stimulate discussion, you need to post videos, pictures, and ideas to get people talking. Just make sure it moves the conversation toward their Dream or the Sale.


The formulas that work so well for fan base building also work in posts. For example:

  • Click like if you love this picture!

Someone told me about a great example (I would give attribution if I knew where it came from!) that gets both Likes and Comments:

  • Click like if you think Kobe will score 30 tonight. If not, why not?

Putting It All Together

If you want to become a better Facebook marketer and sell more of what you offer so that you can enjoy business more and live the life you’re dreaming of, follow my advice above and also share this article with all your friends on Facebook!

See what I did there? That’s what I’m talking about: Benefits —> Dream —> Action

Brian Carter is chief executive officer of FanReach Facebook Marketing Courses.

Server Headers 101 (Infographic)

For newbies in the business of crafting websites, the purpose and technicality behind server header responses can often be a little mind baffling to get to grips with. Although there are essentially so much to learn, only a few are common and essential to web professionals and the average user.

So what is a server header response, anyway? Well, let’s shed some light on them by delving deep into the most common server header responses.

Click here to enlarge.

Infographic by SEOgadget, a boutique SEO agency and blog located in London and maintained by a small team of passionate tech geeks and search wizards.

Related Content

About the Author

Oli Archibald is a search consultant and blog writer at SEOgadget. Follow them via Twitter as @SEOgadget for plenty of great articles on SEO, Excel, Microformats, and technology in general.


Using rewriteable URLs to help user experience and SEO

It doesn’t take much to send a story viral on Twitter, but a
recent quirk in the URL system at The Independent saw a flurry of humorous web
links scattered across the Twittersphere.

I was first alerted to the incident when one of our leading
techies at dotCommerce, Stuart Gill, sent
me a link that was doing the rounds on Twitter, seemingly exposing an
entertaining URL on a story about Kate Middleton’s head
in The Independent.



While it
initially looks as though a sub-editor at the paper has been neglectful, this
is actually an example of a little URL rewriting feature that is common to lots
of content management systems.

As long as you have the numbers at the end, you
can put anything into the URL and it will still work normally.





Not just for
the URL of it

aside, URL rewriting is something that we, and many other websites, use quite
frequently. Why is this? At the basic marketing level, it allows us to generate
memorable URLs for campaigns or print marketing.

with database-powered ecommerce sites, things get more interesting and the
trick becomes a lot more useful.


Go Native for example, a website offering serviced
apartments we developed. Pages on the site are constructed automatically based
on the contents of a central database. However, this means you end up with URLs
classics like this:


is actually an information page for the Forbes
Building in Aberdeen (their ID is 10494).

it’s a really ugly URL, so we do some magic using rewrites to change it to the
much prettier address:


you can put any text in the URL you want, and it still works:


Behind the

what’s going on here?

logic is built into the URL format so that, no matter what is in the text
field, it’s the number ID that is searched for.

when the machine sees http://www.gonative.com/apartment/$text$/$number$/, it takes a look at the
last bit of the URL and returns the following:


the same works in reverse to ensure that the more complex URL is shown in
simple, user-friendly terms.

What are the

1. It looks professional and it’s reassuring to users to see that the
URL contains the name of whatever they were searching for.

2. Google does catalogue these pages if they become popular (as the Independent found) so there’s SEO value
here. If the name of the search is in the URL, this may help your rankings. It
also means you can keep the URLs even if you change your CMS – so you don’t
throw away all your SEO juice.

3. It can, in some circumstances, help to secure your site. If URLs
become less easy to guess by potential hackers

At the end
of the day we’ve all had our fun, but let’s not forget the valuable role this
function serves for marketers every single day.

Oh go on
then, one more:



Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Future of Geolocation: What is Coming?

Since location-based check-in app Foursquare was launched at South by Southwest in 2009, the app has seen exponential growth, reaching over 7.5 million users this year.

Other apps have been popping up as well, as geolocation takes center stage in the mobile arena and users flock to apps that create games from typical situations and offer rewards for users.

Two years later, check-ins are old news and the still-young area of geolocation is evolving to keep users interested. Apart from gamification through leaderboards and badges (or stickers, or pins), the motivation for users to participate in location-based networks is severely lacking.

foursquare badges

Foursquare rewards users with badges for checking in.

Obviously the gaming aspect is a huge draw, as evidenced by the millions of users checking in across the globe, but developers continue to chase after our elusive social graph to make geolocation as indispensable as microblogging and photo sharing.

If there are any golden rules when it comes to geolocation, I would say they are 1)make it easy and 2) create value. Users want to put in less effort and receive more value. It’s up to both developers and businesses to do what they can to ensure these services have as few boundaries and as much value as possible.

In this article I’ve highlighted some of the ways developers are pushing toward these goals and what we can expect from the future of geolocation.


Possibly one of the most obvious and expected developments is the integration of recommended places to check in to. Foursquare’s most recent version includes a section called Explore, designed to recommend places around you based on your friends’ favorite places and your own check-in history.


Tell us what you're looking for and we'll help you find something nearby.

Scoville integrates with your Foursquare check-ins and collects your favorite places on a weekly basis. As more users sign up, these recommendations will create a ranking of places in each city, allowing Scoville to recommend check-ins based on popularity.


Scoville brings location and bookmarking together to help you keep track of favorite places.

Bizzy is trying a different angle, collecting place ratings and reviews as users leave a venue, through the check-out feature.


Bizzy recommends local businesses based on user ratings.

Some newer apps are focusing more on adding valuable content to recommendations, such as special offers or information. Lowffer recommends nearby deals and special offers based on user recommendations and your location, acting somewhat like a mobile Groupon app. Like Foursquare, a game-like leaderboard is emphasized to motivate user participation.


Deals and special offers with a local twist from Lowffer.

Groupon founder Andrew Mason has his own ideas about taking the popular deals site mobile, with the upcoming release of Groupon Now. Using Groupon’s successful deals focus, the new mobile app offers users two options: I’m hungry or I’m bored. Each option, combined with the user’s current location, returns special offers nearby.

groupon businessweek

The age-old human conundrum—where to eat lunch.

Like any other location-based app, the take-off will be slow until enough users get involved to make it worthwhile, but with Groupon’s proven success in the daily deals space, this could be the end of that all-too-common question, “What will I have for lunch today?”

Spot, another soon-to-launch app, is hoping to fill a gap some other apps have opened up by offering an easy way to collect location recommendations from friends and save them for later. Alan Danzis’ Wish List for Foursquare 4 suggests similar features that could be added to Foursquare’s next version, allowing users to recommend deals to friends and save their favorites, and providing check-in reminders.

Social Connections

Connecting with those who are already part of your social graph is pretty much expected when using geolocation apps, but connecting with strangers is a whole new game. Unlike recommendations, this is a feature that’s seeing somewhat unexpected traction in location-based apps. Following the success of sites like Chatroulette (for web-based conversations) and social networks like Twitter, it may not come as a surprise that meeting new people is a popular activity online, but using geolocation takes this much closer to crossing the cool-or-creepy line.


Randomized video conversations create new connections on Chatroulette.

Yobongo is one such app that’s slowly rolling out across the U.S. The premise of Yobongo is to create connections with strangers nearby, using your location to show other users around you. By setting up a room of 10 to 15 users, the app aims to help you break the ice and create new friendships. Founder Caleb Elston told GigaOM that offering up your location data to the app (but not other users) is a worthwhile trade for the value you get back.


Yobongo offers a location-based way to meet new people.

Taking this idea a step further is the Situationist app, which aims to bring strangers together to participate in random situations. Although the app is based on a political agenda, it offers simple tasks to complete to bring users together in a more casual way as well. Using your location data, the app alerts you to users nearby who have predetermined which situations they are comfortable with; for instance, hug me for 5 seconds, or let me inspect the contents of your bag for bombs and such.


Situationist app helps you create spontaneous connections.

Location-Based Info

Moving away from discovery and meeting new people, Glympse is designed to enable sharing location data with people you know. Using SMS or email, you can send a Glympse to any of your contacts, showing them a map of where you are, and where you’re going. The map updates using real-time GPS data to show when you’ve reached your destination and how long you will be there.


Glympse offers an easy solution for privately sharing your location.

This idea is taken a step further with Geoloqi, a mobile and web platform that works in the same way, but adds functions like Geonotes, layers and automatic Foursquare check-ins.


Geoloqi adds new functionality to sharing location data.

Automatic Foursquare check-ins is an impressive feature that we will likely see more of this year in various geolocation apps. By choosing your favorite Foursquare venues, you can set Geoloqi to automatically check you in 10 minutes after arriving, taking the effort out of check-ins without removing the reward.

A lesser-known feature of some of the more popular check-in apps, Geonotes is front-and-center in Geoloqi as a way to use location data to make your life easier. Using Geonotes, you can leave notes for your friends, which will show up when they arrive at a specified location. You can create reminders for yourself as well; for instance, reminding yourself to get milk when you arrive at the supermarket.

Task Ave is an iPhone app focused exclusively on this idea, but with future versions of Geoloqi (which is free to download) integrating with popular to-do app, Remember the Milk, I would be surprised to see anyone paying $2.99 for Task Ave.

task ave

Location-based tasks from Task Ave make your to-do list more manageable.

Push notifications and SMS alerts are proving to be popular for other purposes, as well. Location-based question-and-answer apps like LOCQL and LocalMind connect users to share information by asking and answering questions based on their location. Push notifications are used to alert users who have agreed to answer questions about a place when someone has a question, promoting both a social connection and the sharing of information.

The mobile advertising company Chalkboard publishes ads from local businesses inside supported apps when the user is within 1 mile of the store. Although this is a similar idea to previously mentioned Groupon Now, the focus of Chalkboard is taking the user action out of the equation, providing ads to users automatically, based on their location.


Mobile advertising goes local with Chalkboard.

Automatic Check-Ins

Chalkboard is not the only app taking the manual action out of geolocation. Geoloqi, as mentioned before, offers automatic check-ins for your favorite Foursquare venues, and will most likely add support for other popular check-in apps in the future.

RFID (radio-frequency identification) and NFC (near field communication) technologies are going to become much more popular as geolocation apps continue to evolve and developers look for ways to make sending and receiving location-based data easier. Both of these technologies allow communication (such as sending a post or completing a check-in) with a specified tag by just swiping a device, such as an NFC-enabled phone.

Foursquare has already begun testing NFC check-ins and Coca-Cola used RFID at last year’s Coca-Cola Village teen camp to enable Facebook Likes and status updates to be sent with wristbands.

wristbands coca cola

Teenagers were given a plastic bracelet adorned with what resembled a Coke bottle cap. The cap was embedded with a 125 kHz passive RFID tag.

What Else Can We Expect?

There are some exciting innovations emerging in geolocation already, but there’s surely much more value to be had from this technology. Some of the developments I’m most interested to see are:

  • A collection of user-generated information about a place, like a location-based Wikipedia

  • Mobile check-in for flights, bypassing the long check-in counter queues

  • Mobile check-in at doctors’ offices, sending the secretary an automatic notification of your arrival

  • Mobile identification, providing entry to adult-only venues like nightclubs (our phones are already replacing cash, so why not our photo IDs?)

  • Digital, geotagged nightclub stamps to prove you’ve paid to get in

  • Bookmarking for places with push notifications, so you’ll finally remember to check out that cafĂ© your friend keeps recommending

  • Interactive maps attached to promotional material (with QR codes?) so you can easily find the new pizza place that sent you coupons in the mail

Weigh In

What do you expect to see in the future of location-based services and what would you like to see? What tools or services would benefit your business most? Leave your comments in the box below.


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