Tag Archives: social media

Google’s mobile update: Are we scared?

mobilegeddon2You may have heard about Google launching its new mobile-friendly algorithm on 21 April to boost the ranking of pages that work well on mobile devices. By ‘mobile’ Google is talking about smart phones, such as devices running Android, iPhone, or Windows Phone. This latest of their regular updates was announced in February, and they had started introducing a ‘mobile-friendly’ label to search results on mobile devices back in November 2014. Google’s aim is for users to ‘find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.’

Should we be worried?

The February announcement prompted many search engine optimisation companies to strongly urge people to make their sites mobile friendly before the 21 April ‘deadline’, or risk seeing their pages plummet down the search rankings. Some even christened it ‘Mobilegeddon’. Whilst it would be reckless to ignore the impact of mobile use on the web, not only was it somewhat unrealistic to expect websites all over the world to be made completely mobile-friendly within a couple of months, this has turned out to be a bit of an overreaction. According to Google’s FAQ on the mobile-friendly algorithm,

  • mobile-friendliness gives individual pages – not whole sites – a ranking boost in searches carried out on mobile devices across all languages and locations;
  • not being mobile-friendly doesn’t penalise your pages’ ranking in searches carried out on desktop, laptop or tablets;
  • good content still gets well-ranked even on mobile searches: ‘The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query.’

Google’s algorithm uses over 200 unique ‘signals’ – factors in web pages that determine how it ranks search results for any query, including keyword placement, the freshness of the content, and the quality of links to and from a page.

We’re not scared!

So whilst this mobile-friendly change is significant, and we need our pages to work for mobile users, there’s really no need to panic just yet. We, like Google, want to ensure pages are mobile-friendly, because mobile traffic to the site has been increasing year-on-year, although it hasn’t yet overtaken desktop. But a knee-jerk reaction to satisfy the introduction of the new search algorithm won’t necessarily help with that. There are no quick fixes for making sites usable on mobile devices.

We already have a long-term strategy to make sure our web pages are viewable, usable and findable on all devices, including smart phones, tablets, and desktop screens, by moving to responsive design, which means our content adapts to the wide variety of available screen sizes.

But making our content easy to access on all devices is more than just a technical issue. You can’t just drop existing content into a responsive design and have it magically work well for mobile. The content itself needs to be doing the right job for both our site visitors and the University, so it needs reviewing and reorganising to ensure good usability for pages that rearrange themselves in different screen sizes in responsive web design.

Making our sites responsive

The Web Team have been working on responsive design for a couple of years now, and we have already optimised a number of our sites for mobile.

Pages from these redesigned sites are now labelled ‘Mobile-friendly’ in Google search results on smartphones, and as we create more responsive sites – and others are currently in production -the Google crawler will pick up on mobile-friendliness as soon as it recrawls them. We’ll be monitoring our redesigned sites to see that they perform well generally, and we can test new pages with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

We are planning a phased roll-out of responsive redesigns across the University site, and of course we want to achieve this as effectively and efficiently as we can within a reasonable time frame, whilst also ensuring our pages deliver a good quality experience for our site visitors, no matter what devices they are using.

Sarah Williams,
Web Editorial and Marketing Officer

In cyberspace everyone can see you tweet

It’s been quite a couple of weeks for matters of online privacy. The revelation that the US National Security Agency really is monitoring electronic communications on a massive scale after all is simultaneously both unsurprising and and confusing. It’s the sort of thing many people assumed would be happening, but to be told that it really is still shocks.

It’s interesting how reactions and attitudes are shifting as this story moves from fiction to fact. It’s possible to be outraged at the widespread monitoring of private communications whilst also feeling grateful that someone out there really is keeping tabs on what some of the bad guys are planning. Some say one of the things that defines us as humans is our ability to hold contradictory beliefs.

We also heard a startling interview about the apparently widespread practice of hackers peering at computer users through their webcams. It seems we may have unwittingly invited Big Brother, or Little Teenager, into our own homes.

Whilst many people around the world will now be thinking more carefully about what they say and do online, it’s also clear that many really don’t. Earlier this week a contact sent me a link to a post on UnMarketing which captures this succinctly: ‘Why Tweets About Obese Doctors Are Never Your Own‘. Scott Stratten highlights the absurdity of the often-used disclaimer “All tweets are my own”, pointing out that linking a personal twitter feed to an employer is only ever a couple of clicks worth of work, and how this:

 leads inexorably to this:

It’s a great post, please read it.

The next day, we had an example from closer to home. You won’t be surprised to hear that we monitor social media for mentions of the University. It helps us to answer questions and queries that people may have about us and it also helps us to gauge how people feel about us. So, whenever someone tweets our name, we tend to see it. And on Thursday morning, this popped up:

I’ve redacted it for language.

We checked to see where this was coming from, and found that Roy was at the UCAS fair at Liverpool University. We discovered this by looking at the rest of his public twitter feed. It looked like this:

Fairly reasonably, we found ourselves wondering who this chap was. So we googled his name, plus UCAS and came up with some of his work references. He’s the Education Liaison Officer at a college in West Yorkshire.

I’m sure the students he met at the UCAS fair didn’t realise that he was on the look-out for faces that fit a Liverpudlian stereotype. I doubt the student ambassadors from Exeter realised he wanted them to leave. I’m guessing the guy with the horn-rimmed spectacles never knew that Roy was thinking about punching him in the face.

However, if any of these people, after meeting Roy, had gone away and googled his name plus ‘twitter’, perhaps because they wanted to ask him a question, they would have found out fairly quickly.

In our social media guidelines, we say:

  • Social media are public spaces. You should not say anything that you would not be happy to say in a public gathering and you should not publish information which you would not be happy for anyone in the world to see.

This is as true for your ‘personal’, ‘private’, ‘views all my own’ social media. Think about what ‘social media’ means in strict literal terms. And then think about what you’re saying.

Post script: Roy’s original tweet was useful for us. We contacted our Recruitment Team, showed them the tweet, and they had a conversation with the Student Ambassadors who represented the University at this particular UCAS event to check that they had behaved appropriately and think about whether there was anything they needed to change.

So, thanks Roy, for showing us one of the many benefits, and some of the pitfalls, of social media.

Your customers are talking. Shut up and listen!

I was asked to speak to our University’s Customer Service Network earlier this week. They are a group of colleagues who deal with staff and students all day every day and who get together every couple of months to share experiences and talk about how they might further develop.

Over the last couple of years they, like most of us, have found the phrase ‘social media’ intruding into their conversations more and more. They wanted to know more about it and how it might be used to improve customer service, so they asked me along.

They claimed that they had no idea about social media so I started from first principles, even though I recognised some pretty switched-on people in the audience. As a result I talked. A lot. I think I probably ate up most of the time they had for the rest of their agenda. I’d like to think that’s because there were so many interesting things to say, but you’d have to ask them whether ‘interesting’ was applicable, and please, don’t tell me what they really thought.

Mainly what I talked was figures and examples, pulled from all over the place. I’m sure their heads were spinning with take-up rates, demographic splits and user interaction volumes and that was before I told them that 150 years of YouTube are watched every day on Facebook.

Through all my waffle, one reasonably simple set of figures seemed to cut through and make the point about social media and its impact on customers. They came from this chart:


I found the chart on Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert blog.

Put simply this piece of research shows that only 29% of users who had complained about a company via twitter had subsequently been contacted by that company.

If you shift your gaze over the right hand side of the chart, you’ll see that of those who DID receive a reply 83.5% either liked or loved being contacted and 74.4% of them were either somewhat or very satisfied with the response.

In case this isn’t clear enough, let’s put it another way.

  • Your customers are out there talking about you. Some of them are complaining about your goods and services. To their friends and their friends friends and the whole world if they care to listen.
  • If you care to respond to them, there’s a roughly 80% chance that they will stop being annoyed with you and start being happy with you.
  • Yet still 71% of companies aren’t listening.

This is what highly paid, luxuriously upholstered social media consultants and commentators would call a NO BRAINER.

The effect of getting involved can be dramatic. What makes social media such a powerful tool is the amplification of what an individual says across their network and the networks of their connections. So, when you help someone via social media you’re doing more than just closing down a public display of dissatisfaction, you’re giving active and engaged customers something they really like and creating an impression they are very likely to pass on to their friends. And their friends’ friends.

twitter_conversation_blogWe’ve been monitioring social media for a couple of years now and we engage whenever we can. If I haven’t argued this point sufficiently, here’s a real example from our twitter feed in 2011. I’ve tried to anonymise it, but let me tell you that the original tweet was by a student from New York State and was sent out as a general observation to her 300+ twitter friends, rather than directly to us. We picked it up and the conversation shows what happened.

Hopefully she left as one of the 80% of the 29% and who knows? Maybe one day she, or one of her friends, or one of her friends’ friends, will become a student of ours.

Another year older and a new one just begun

As University staff we have our Annual Reviews in the Summer, setting goals for the next 12 months.

Our financial year begins on 1 August, triggering budget pruning and spending rounds.

In September the academic year begins, driving the review and improvement of everything that we do at the University.

Image from www.safety-selector.co.uk. Why not buy one for yourself?

Image from www.safety-selector.co.uk. Why not buy one for yourself?

Despite already having three annual cycles which carry our planning forward, January remains the time when we most naturally look back at what we have (and haven’t) managed to accomplish in the previous year, and resolve to get things (both new and old) done in the next year.

Blogs are buzzing with predictions for 2012, from an explosion in voice recognition to NFC finally taking off and everyone getting their own Pinterest board. Others are detailing predicted developments in web analytics, social media and mobile. Yet more experts are telling us that their ambition for 2012 is just for things to slow down a little. Some of our local influencers are happy to be cooking and getting married. And why not?

Looking at our main objectives here in the Web Team, i’m struck by how they seem full of the sort of things it’s easy to assume everyone else has had ticked off for years. We’ll be implementing the finer points of our social media strategy, working through a program of search engine optimisation, developing our support for search engine marketing, launching a much-improved search engine and using web analytics more directly. In the midst of all this, we’ll be refreshing the look and feel of our site.

It’s tempting, particularly when so many of our bulletins from the outside world come from those at the sharp edge of online communications, to feel as if you must be falling behind. I’m sure it’s not so. Who out there can honestly deny that one of the main reasons we all go to industry conferences and networking events is to reassure ourselves that everyone else is in the same boat as we are? It may feel sluggardly to be planning for 2012 goals which the big online players have been investing in for years, but in the real world, that’s how we make progress, by building expertise and making solid developments one after the other.

It’s going to be a good year and, who knows? This time next year I might be raving about our upcoming wearable devices and frictionless sharing.

My Trip to Google HQ, London

Me at Google HQ

Me at Google HQ

When an invitation to attend a free training session at Google HQ in London landed in my inbox, I jumped at the chance.  I was lost in an Ally McBeal style fantasy daydream, where I saw myself sliding between floors on a fireman’s pole and taking the ski lift back up again.  The reality, of course, was slightly different.  The offices, spread over 3 floors, appeared to have no fireman’s poles and no ski-lifts but in true Google style did have glass walls (daubed with ‘Google’ coloured paint) separating the office space and funky furniture adorned all the communal areas.

The training room, in which I would spend the next 6 hours was called St James’s Park and was decorated (surprise, surprise) in the style of a park!  The carpet looked authentically grass-like, with a ‘stone’ pathway running through it and deck chairs and bushes flanking the floor-to-ceiling window to one side of the room.  Best of all the refreshments included cup cakes which wouldn’t be out of place at an Alice and Wonderland tea party AND they tasted divine – no need for an ‘eat me’ sign on those!

I was representing the University of Exeter Business School with the aim of improving our rankings and performance within Google.  The training was an afternoon of presentations from various members of the Google team, covering a range of topics from Google Adwords to YouTube EDU and Social Media.

Ross Cohn, Education Industry Leader from Google UK kicked-off the presentations with an overview of the major new trends within the online community.  Ross stressed the importance of every organisation having a mobile-ready website.  With two-thirds of the UK population using mobile phones, of which 20% have a smart phone, and over half of new internet connections coming from mobiles, the need to have a platform that can handle this technology is crucial.  Ross touched on the importance of social media (1 in 6 minutes spent online are on social networking sites) as well as the rise in popularity of distance/online learning and the new technologies which Google are initialising to help organisations stay ahead (or at least try to keep up) with the dynamic and ever-changing online world.

Next to take the floor was Victoria Charalambous, Inside Sales Rep for Google UK and Ireland, who sold us the benefits of Google Adwords.  Victoria started with an unsupported statement “search is still thought more useful than personal recommendation” By who?  Google? However she then went on to show us some fascinating free tools which Google offer.  Google Insights is a great piece of software which shows exactly what people are searching for in your subject area, and where these people are from, as well as the most popular times of year these searches take place.

Next up were Nicola Arnold, Google Account Manager and Eoghan Phipp, Account Strategist.  They talked about the benefits of display advertising using Google Ad Planner. Display Advertising places ads on relevant websites for your product, in the case of business schools they used the Financial Times as an example.  When setting up a campaign you can either specify the websites you want your ad to appear on or define your campaign by geographic, demographic and interest area of the vi

St James' Park

St James’ Park

sitors. Of course Facebook have been doing this kind of targeted advertising for several years and it’s extremely competitively priced. So what makes this better?  In a word ‘Remarketing’.

Remarketing is a clever piece of software which works in tandem with your display advert campaign to reinforce your brand and sales message.  How does it work?  You put a piece of Google code on a page in which the visitor could potentially convert – for example, ‘apply for an MBA at Exeter’.  All visitors that go to this page but do not actually apply (get distracted, can’t make up their mind etc) are bundled together, and the next time they visit a website which is on the Google display ad network, lo and behold your advert appears, reminding them that they need to apply for that Exeter MBA.  The cost of this is calculated in the same way as Google Adwords on an auction basis: he who bids the most gets the most exposure but also he who has the most relevant content on their website (I think the former may be more important than the latter in Google’s eyes).

Ben Wallace, Associate Product Marketing Manager was next, giving a succinct presentation on the benefits of YouTube EDU.  YouTube EDU is exclusively for higher education establishments and by all accounts is a fantastic way of marketing your university.  Uploading lectures, promotional videos, video profiles are just some of the ways to interact with prospective students and let them know just how great your institution is.  Uploading lectures in particular is not only a good way of demonstrating the high standards of teaching, research etc but is also a way of giving back – giving less fortunate people in the world access to higher education, not to mention the practice of giving something of worth for free within social media in order to get something back.  Additional benefits also include 2GB (2/3 hours) per video upload, a custom interface and map buttons to click through to your own website.  YouTube Insights was also highlighted as good monitoring tool and is a free piece of software which will enable you to see how much of a video is being watched, when they leave, etc.

Last to present was John Ray, Senior Industry Manager for Google UK, on mobile browsing.  John described the mobile phone as the modern day equivalent to the Swiss Army Knife: a powerful ‘mini computer’ that can do near enough anything we want it to, and with a predicted 100,000,000 iPhone units to be sold in 2011, something that no business should ignore.  John was quick to dispel the myth that once you have an app you’ve cracked the market, citing the statistic that 90% of mobile apps are deleted within 30 days of downloading. We were then shared four top best practice tips on how to approach mobile browsing:

1.      Be Clear

Make sure you have a mobile strategy – is your website for recruitment, transactions, information? Once you have defined this then you can start to build for mobile browsing.

2.     Be ready

Don’t get left behind!  With 23% of time on the internet coming from mobile devices, it’s crucial that we are ready and able to meet the demands of visitors.

3.     Be found

The Google sales bit.  Google have purchased Admob, the largest mobile advertising network in the world so when planning your Adword campaigns, you can build in your mobile campaign too, all in one easy move.

4.     Be smart

Do not underestimate the power of mobile browsing – it is the technology of the future.

The session closed with a talk from Paul Harrison – CEO of Carve Consulting.  It was reassuring to hear that he echoed much of what Exeter social media guru Ally Banks told us a few weeks ago – personal recommendation is king with search becoming less important (prompting a few uncomfortable shuffles from the Google team at the front).  He cited a few interesting monitoring tools to ensure that you are on top of what is being said about you. Radion6 is the tool that Vodafone use to great success, as Ally demonstrated in his presentation.  Paul also discussed the major benefits of advertising on Facebook (more shuffles from the front) and reiterated that this is not technology to the younger audience, it’s a way of life.  Social media is just how they communicate and to ignore it would be disastrous.

All in all an informative day, even if we didn’t get to go on the ski-lift.


Exeter old boy with new ideas

We kicked off our annual series of Web Awareness Seminars this week with a visit from Alastair Banks, who graduated from the University in July 2000, having co-founded Optix Solutions during his second year!

He’s kept up that sort of pace since gaining his Computer Science degree and Optix is now one of the most successful digital agencies in the South West.

Alastair has a passion and flair for networking and it’s only natural that over the last couple of years he’s become an influentiual exponent of – and evangelist for – social media. The approach of putting yourself and your experitise out there to help and support the community in the knowledge that somewhere down the line you will reap what you sow is one we all recognise but few actually manage to put into practice.

Through his blog , his twitter feed, his youtube channel, his LinkedIn profile and his facebook page Alastair is sharing sharing his expertise with his friends, partners, customers, contacts and the world at large. And he has found that by giving freely the returns for a business like Optix are great. They have placed themselves at the centre of social media expertise in the South West, developing their sphere of influence – and ultimately their customer base – far more  widely than they ever would have been able to by mailing out flyers and cold-calling CEOs.

Perhaps it’s no surprise to learn that Alastair is a keen poker player. He certainly demonstrates the old maxim about speculating to accumulate.

Following Alastair’s talk, ideas came quickly from the colleagues in attendance. Some were good, some were challenging, but all showed how powerful the very idea of social media can be. No-one left thinking ‘well, I can’t see the point of that’. I haven’t heard so many pens scratching at so many notebooks since Tim Smit came to the University staff conference and told us all to quit our jobs and start yoghurt-making businesses.

Alastair encouraged us to build our social media foundations by blogging. To tell the world about the things that we’ve learned, sharing our thoughts and passing on knowledge to those around us, knowing that when we needed help, they would more than likely be there for us.

This is a start.