What about SEO?

underhandSearch Engine Optimisation or SEO makes me frown. The zeitgeist has been that if you are serious about your online presence then you need a specialist SEO agency. I've worked on sites big and small alongside such agencies and have come to the conclusion that in most cases there are better places to allocate your budgets.

Google makes no secret that they work tirelessly to counter SEO strategies designed to circumvent their efforts to deliver worthwhile search results, and have no compunction at all to deal brutally with those using underhand methods. Want to lose your ranking? Then try link farming, or any one of the hundreds of 'sure fire ways to boost your position' that have fallen from grace over the years.

Repeated algorithm updates have sought out and destroyed every temporary advantage the SEO 'experts' have applied to websites in their care, and when they get caught out who pays? Not the SEO companies. Of course there are ethical SEO companies out there but when you analyse their proposition it's to build the best website you can... surely that should be taken as read?

Google has triumphed as the greatest search engine in the world on the basis of it's unparalleled search results; maintaining the quality of those results is paramount to this technological behemoth. Rather than try and beat it, go with the flow. Give your audience what they want, which is information. Google doesn't write content, it links to it, so to win at SEO you should feed the Santa Clara beast a diet of rich, useful and original content.

Yes of course you need to employ standards driven web design and yes you should do everything you can to demonstrate authority, such as linking your authorship, but as for the rest of the SEO trickery, you'll do better to think about how your site content can help your visitors.

Without content Google is nothing and they can't help but reward your original labours.

Steve Vyse

Achievement Unlocked

Can our experiences interacting with technology help us to become better people? Can our online interactions influence our offline behaviour? Jesse Schell, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks so; but reasons that we're going to want to be rewarded for it.

At a DICE conference Jesse Schell gave a talk on the future of gaming for the Internet Generation. By drawing together a number of emerging themes he's painted a picture of how our user interactions will develop over the coming decades - not just with games, but with technology in general.


One recurring criticism of the Internet is that it's a world one pixel deep; infinitely wide but intrinsically shallow. The Internet Generation are growing up with a diminishing attention span and an ever increasing appetite to be entertained. Social networking sites can help us while away our idle hours - or more likely, our working hours - with fun diversions that lack substance but still have a pleasing sense of accomplishment. You could have wasted 10 minutes, instead you've successfully planted some pumpkins in FarmVille.

Schell's question is whether it is possible to take that love of trivial pastimes and incorporate it into our real lives in a more meaningful way. The answer seems to be through rewarding the end user, and realising that even virtual recognition can have an impact on real world behaviour.

Marketing departments around the globe are no doubt trying to unlock the secrets of how to monetise this, and there is certainly an opportunity to influence people's actions by simply acknowledging them. Starbucks visitors who check in at coffee shops using Foursquare can unlock a 'Barista' badge to display on their phone. Despite the lack of a financial incentive users are willing to do this simply to have a new virtual trophy to show off to their Foursquare friends.

If it's possible to influence behaviour regarding something so inconsequential, then maybe it's also possible to create a more positive and meaningful result using the same approach. Wouldn't there be an unrivalled sense of pride having the 'Completed Anna Karenina' trophy on your Facebook page, or the 'Visited Machu Picchu' badge on your Foursquare account - rather than just having proof that you've been to five Starbucks?

Maybe over time your virtual rewards could help to shape your life into one full of achievements that you were proud to share, and might encourage others to do the same.

Achievement Unlocked: 10G - Read Blog Post.

Value is in the eye of the beholder

handbagPink faced politicians tirelessly explain how the austere clouds of recession are being driven back by a warm front of confident growth, perhaps encouraging us to drink deep of a congratulatory beer or two, on which note the The Grocer reported an interesting story about SABMiller successfully marketing Peroni lager as a premium brand in the UK.

Despite disappointing sales in Europe the brewing giant reports a stellar 9% increase in UK sales of Peroni. 

OK, the drinks market can be pretty faddish - dressing up a rather average beer by sticking a lime in the bottle-neck caught on years ago, as has re-popularising premium cider by serving it with, er, lots more ice - but the point is, a certain kind of drinker derives a coolness from making a particular selection.

The choice of beer in a pizzeria is not based on price, but on perception and SABMiller's marketing department have nailed it with Peroni.

Interestingly, it seems that Peroni has something of a different positioning in Italy. A barman there described it as “la birra di lavoratore” which is kind of self-explanatory but the point is that away from trendy UK bars, locally this “workman’s beer” is good for washing down pizza and not much else.

Conversely, an acquaintance makes her own line of what can only be described as very posh handbags. I hadn’t actually seen one until recently and being a chap you’ll understand that a handmade  handbag isn’t exactly going to be top of my radar for excitement - until it comes to buying one as a present.

Stylish, luxurious, exquisitely finished and, it turns out, beautifully packaged and delivered in colour co-ordinated wrapping, this was a fantastic buying experience confirmed by the delight of the recipient.

But unlike Peroni, these bags were too cheap. Learning how much the bags cost to make in materials, let alone time, marketing and distribution there seemed little enough margin anyway; but compared with her competition and what you might call satisfaction and value - the “wow” factor, if you will, an extra £100 per bag seemed to fit the market. Receptive to new ideas, after some strong advice my aquaintance has just had a rather good quarter with lower volume more than compensated by a sensible margin.

Of course value is in the eye of the beholder, and it may well be that in six months time with interest rates climbing the market will have changed with austerity becoming fashionable again. The trick is in judging the market not just once, but every day and that goes for every brand and service under the sun.

Steve Vyse

Please write back saying how much money you would like.

WarholTrust me, this is the stuff of a designer's dreams.

Mick Jagger's letter to Andy Warhol asking him to create the cover for a Rolling Stones album is clearly the greatest brief from a client to a designer ever.

To be honest, the fact that it includes the phrases 'I leave it in your capable hands to do what ever you want' and 'please write back saying how much money you would like' means the whole thing is pretty much sewn up, but that it also recommends taking as long as is necessary is clearly the clincher.


Via the ever-excellent Letters Of Note.