Exploring the gap between online and offline experience

What’s the difference between a good and an excellent restaurant? It’s not just the food; it’s the experience. There is a reason why Starbucks started asking people for their first name in 2012 – they needed to get back to basics and provide a better customer experience. After all, only a couple of pence of your £3 coffee actually goes towards the drink.

It’s not always easy laying an experience on top of ‘business as usual’ service. Especially for social media where an understanding of context and previous conversations typically leads to a better customer experience. It’s data-led insights resulting in improved relationships.

This is the gap between the experiences that people have online and the offline reality. It’s the difference between the sexy online ad (on the left) and the in-shop reality (on the right).

Tesco discount










It was the explorative subject at a social media event I was invited to last week called #HatchLive at the Mondrian in London (an excellent venue for events). If you work in-house or in an agency for a consumer brand then the talks would have been directly relevant. As I work for a variety of financial based clients it can be a little more challenging devising a strategy – there are A LOT of regulations.

Of all the talks that really struck accord, was a presentation that covered a campaign called Hijack showing how a well-designed app by a footwear shop in Guatemala was able to steal customers from competitor stores. It shows just how disruptive social media can be and is an excellent example of integrating online and offline customer experiences.

Whether you could get a pensioner running between banks for a better rate on their ISA account is another question! The fact is that for financial services you don’t necessarily need a flashy app; just be smarter with the way you identify people and use data. That’s the gap between a good social media programme and an excellent one.

When Robots stop you being Google mobile-friendly

Earlier this week Google released its new search algorithm that detects whether a website is mobile-friendly or not. In the digital marketing world it was dubbed ‘mobile-geddon’, due to the massive impact it would have to search results (an expected 30 – 40% of search results affected). If your website is not tagged ‘mobile-friendly’ by Google then your website will not rank highly for some search terms in Google mobile results. A big issue, as we know 58% who access the internet in the UK do so via a mobile device.

Here’s the catch; despite your website appearing mobile-friendly, it may not be deemed friendly by Google. I know this because after I wrote my blog post last week I realised that the mobile theme of this blog was not being detected by Google.

Here’s why and the solution if you’re having the same problem.

Beating the robots

Google understands the internet by sending out crawlers that read the structures of websites. This is how Google knows which pages are published, if there are images or comments, recent articles, etc. The first page that Google’s crawlers visit is the robots.txt file – most websites have them. It literally tells a crawler which pages that they are not allowed or allowed to access.

Last week I realised that the robots.txt file can cause a little bit of a glitch when it comes to Google’s new mobile search algorithm. Because despite users seeing the below theme when they visited via mobiles…

mobile-friendly iphone

Google was seeing this type of theme:

Google mobile test failed

A massive problem. Despite all my work to make sure the mobile version of my website is compatible across all popular mobile devices, my efforts had categorically failed in Google’s eyes. As a result I was potentially going to lose a lot of traffic and seem a little hypocritical telling clients that they should be mobile optimised – my own blog had failed!

The glitch with Google detected mobile friendliness comes to the robots.txt file. Over the years I’ve used a variety of different WordPress plugins to help optimise my blog for search engines and deliver content quickly. The amalgamation of plugins had seriously disturbed my robots.txt, which had decided to start blocking everything!

It looked like this:

robots.txt not mobile friendly

When in reality, the only pages that should be blocked by crawlers are the default WordPress admin pages. So I edited my file to look like the below:

robots mobile-friendly

I then retook the Google mobile test and behold! Success.

Google mobile-friendly website

Google now sees the full mobile version of my website and has deemed my blog as mobile-friendly. As you see, sometimes making your website mobile-friendly only takes a few quick steps and it’s worth it if you want to maximise the amount of traffic you get online.

Bigger than Panda and Penguin: Google’s mobile-geddon is coming

The Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) weather report by MozCast has been particularly summery of late. Today we have temperatures of 17C but if you work in digital marketing, you will know a storm is coming. On the 21st April Google will be releasing its new search algorithm update that many are calling “mobile-geddon”. It will quickly identify your website as being mobile optimised or not. It’s black or white, one or zero; your website works on mobiles or it doesn’t. No pressure.

The new mobile algorithm update is going to be so big that Google has been incredibly noisy. They’ve blogged about it, alerted webmasters via email and it has been covered in every digital marketing publication.

mobile-friendly Google

Despite this, it has been reported that organisations such as the Daily Mail, Nintendo, Dyson and American Apparel are just not ready. Unless their websites are optimised for mobiles, then they will lose website visitors, and inevitably customers. Google’s update will rightly be labelled by some (mainly disgruntled lazy webmasters) as an example of the search giant acting as the great internet dictator; this time I’m on Google’s side.

According to the Office for National Statistics last year 38 million adults (76%) in Great Britain accessed the Internet every day, 21 million more than in 2006, when directly comparable records began. Of all those people, accessing the Internet using a mobile more than doubled between 2010 and 2014, from 24% to 58%. A huge rise showing that mobile-geddon isn’t just inevitable, it’s necessary. If Google were to rank websites without taking into account mobile-friendliness, then it would be its users who would suffer from poorly designed websites appearing high in search results.

The new mobile algorithm update will come after a relatively long period of peace for webmasters. The last two major Google algorithm updates happened in September and October last year. Panda 4.1 and Penguin 3.0 affected a combined 3-5% of search queries. I predict that Google’s mobile update will affect about 30% of search queries.

So if you’re a webmaster or responsible for the digital marketing of your organisation, Google has given you a clear choice. Become mobile optimised or irrelevant. It’s about to get stormy in the world of SEO.

Could CliqStart re-engage voters with local politics?

Low voter turnout fuelled by a narrative of disillusionment against the ‘political class’ undermines the UK General Election 2015. There is no doubt that our low electoral turnout indicates a poor democratic health, which raises an important question. Could a digitally empowered civil society improve the health of democracy? With only 24 days to go until the election it’s interesting to see how political narratives are being communicated online. Especially to see if adopting digital technologies will allow politicians to connect with millennials.

It just so happens that my local parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party, Paul Scully, has started to ramp up his digital strategy as part of his local election campaign. A message posted on his Facebook page yesterday announced that he had created a new digital campaign team to “… help me convince those around you that it’s important to vote, and that voting Conservative here in Sutton & Cheam will ensure their vote counts”.

To join his digital campaign team he is using a tool called CliqStart, an app for iOS devices that allows people to join virtual campaign groups; from elections to humanitarian matters. It’s incredible easy to use: download it, find the group you would like to join and then you can choose to take actions as part of that community.

What’s really different about CliqStart is that the app is built on the (growing) realisation that a Facebook ‘like’ isn’t enough. If you want to make a change, then you need to make an action. This is more than just measuring hashtag mentions or message reach – it is about convincing a community of people to do something.

Paul Scully’s community gives you the options of canvassing for him, sharing his campaign messages online and pledging to vote for him. You also have the option to donate (of course) and chat with the community’s organiser. As you can see from the screenshots, it’s still early days for Paul’s community but it’s a smart idea because this is different. The app reminds me of the days when forum systems were popular online, before Facebook became mainstream and changed community management forever.

Of course, digital campaigning methods are nothing new to politics. Obama’s 2008 digital presidential campaign was a game changer, showing the voter engagement can be sourced on social media. The company behind this year’s UK General Election is NationBuilder, a community management tool that is specialised to drive grassroots action and is adopted by most mainstream political parties.

To discover if a digitally empowered civil society could improve democratic health in the UK we should look at politicians such as Paul Scully, because effective social media campaigns are always more than a Facebook ‘like’.