Wednesday, December 30, 2009

unintentional bait and switch by Argos

As my students will tell you, I hold Argos up as an example of best practice in multi-channel retailing. However, even the best can get it wrong - albeit in an issue that might be considered beyond their control [though I think with a bit of vigilance and considered web content it can be effectively addressed]. Here's the problem.

I managed to overfill our coffee maker which caused it to short-out ... and anyway, we needed a new one. Being happy with the one I'd just blown up, I typed its name into Google, and got this as part of the result ...
Great, I thought - on offer for half price at Argos. But when I clicked on that link I got this page ...Now, I suspect the link in the Google index was an old one, referring to an offer that has since finished - but it still reflects poorly on Argos.

The solution? Well, first-off you folks at Argos' reputation management dept, I would hope you are monitoring blog enteries with your brand name in them, so you should read this - so let me know how you sorted it out.

To address the issue, I would look to change the content of the page with the 'offer' price on it - Google will continue to list it, but the text should not be damaging. And to stop it happening again you are going to have to monitor search engine results for any returns that link to your website - I'm sure there will be software available help out with this task.

UPDATE - a few days later I went back to Google and used the same search term - and the Argos entry had changed to this:
Note that the URL for both entries is the sames - suggesting that the textual content has been changed. Coincidence? I would like to think someone at Argos saw this blog? [if you did, let me know, I would love to use this as an example of good practice in my next book].

Furthermore, this entry wasn't in the listings when I searched last week

Sunday, December 20, 2009

hey Newcastle Airport - it's snow joke

Today we fly off for our winter holidays. And last night it snowed. Again. Its been snowing since Thursday. So I go to the website of Newcastle Airport - from where we fly in a few hours time.

Now, I would expect I am not the only person concerned about their flight today - the radio is talking of flight delays around the country. And these are the homepage, the flight information page and the arrival and departures page from the airport's website. You will note how two of them have ads in prominent places - what you will not see is any kind of announcement about the state of the runway, and whether or not flights are operating as normal. Checking the 'departures' page would suggest everything is OK. Replacing those ads with a nice clear message [everything Ok, flights delayed, check-in on time, whatever] for a couple of hours would have been good customer service.
And no, it being Sunday morning is not an excuse for those responsible for web content not being at work is NOT an excuse.

Friday, December 11, 2009

hello America ... rest of the world calling

I like They provide a good service in on-demand printing. I've used them to publish books. They have my full details from my registration with them. They've sent books to my home address.

So why did I get this email?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Times' search is behind the times

I read an article in the hard-copy version of the Sunday Times that I wanted to add a link to from my website. So on Monday morning I searched for the online version of the article - starting on the But this was the return I got:
So I went to Google, and with the same search term got this:
Now, there is an ongoing debate at this time about newspapers complaining that the search engines 'steal' the newspapers' content. Hmmm, well maybe you should look to satisfy your own readers on your own site before taking that stance?

Footnote: when I went to the online version of the story its title had been changed. So I searched for it also and got no return on the Timesonline site.

Friday, December 4, 2009

proper e-commerce recruitment

Anyone who has attended one of my sessions [education or training] will have heard me rant about organizations employing techies to do online marketing jobs [see: what is it with me and 'IT'? and what is wrong with e-marketing].

Well, here is an example of a company that puts round pegs in round holes. It is no coincidence that said firm is really good at e-commerce.
Click here to see the ad that put out to recruit new staff - give it a while to open, I made the quality high for clarity.

In particular, notice how the 'techie' job [web developer] emphasizes usability and not just 'Flash'-type visual eye-candy and that the value of textual content is recognized by employing specialist copy writers. Oh yes - and they will be managed by a marketer. Hurrah.

Friday, November 13, 2009

give this landing page the boot[s]

I was looking for a HoMedics product, so I typed the term into Google - and there at the top of the SERP was an ad for the brand at Boots ...... but look at the landing page on which I was taken. Oh dear.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

city with no county

I like Omniture. They do some good stuff - and give it away for free. Well, not quite free, they ask for quite a lot of details about your job [it's for lead generation, but is wasted on me], including your employer and where it is. This includes the location's county. Problem is, I'm in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, but it is not listed on the drop down options.
PS Omniture, if you do read this, I selected 'Durham' - which doesn't exist, it is actually County Durham.

Update, October 2011: The list is still the same - and the download I wanted this morning was on 'segmentation'. Students or practitioners of geographic segmentation will - I hope - see the irony.

Friday, October 30, 2009

informal needn't be scary

It won't work for all organizations, but a bit of humour can help your marketing communications be better received by the target audience. This example is from self-publishers, Lulu - with the halloween offer using the coupon code BOO. Nice.

Update: this is obviously an ongoing strategy, here's one from December '09:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

why the paid ad?

There is a reasonable argument that suggests paying for ads on search engine results pages [SERP] for certain keywords can help develop your brand even if your site is high in the organic listings. But take a look at the first page of the SERP for a search on "Sunderland University".
Yep - 9 of the 10 listings are for Sunderland University. So why bother with the paid listing also? Having been derogatory about this, the university has got ads on other keyword searches where it doesn't feature in the organic listings. But then again, some of the sites in those organic listings seem to be there almost by accident. Maybe a serious SEO campaign might be a better long-term plan? [I assume its marketers know the stats on organic vs ad clickthrough performance].

Saturday, October 24, 2009

questions you have to answer

OK, so questionnaires exist outside the online environment - but I did respond to this one on the web, so I've included it here. To be fair, getting questionnaires right is very difficult - I rarely see one with out at least one iffy question. The grammar used in this one suggests that I might not want to tick any of the three boxes ['which, if any ...'], yet as the response to my original answer shows, no answer is not an option - and yet I do not want any of the three options.

Note that this was part of questionnaire from a company that conducts research as a business model and so is simply poor practice. If this were on a website and customers had to answer the question as part of a purchase process ... it would be illegal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Teesside University : keeping up with the times ... or not

It is nice to see that an academic institution is moving with the times and featuring all manner of social networking links on its website [facebook, twitter, flickr etc], but this week I got a snail mail letter from them requesting a reference for one of my old students.

The thing is, it was dated the 30th of September and asked for a reply by the 2nd of October - and it arrived at my uni on the 6th ! But that's not the subject of this posting [though it is something that should be addressed]. So, seeing as the student might miss out on a post graduate programme because of the delay, I thought I would email the sender of the letter and let her know the reference was both positive, and in the post.

So here is my complaint. I spent a good while on and all I could find was an 'enquiries@' email address. Nothing for the admissions dept [from where the email came] and putting the sender's name in the site search produced a 'Your search did not match any documents.' reply.

So Teesside uni - social media might be sooooo 2009, but email is soooooo 1996, get the basics of Internet communication right before moving on to more advanced stuff.

Unless, of course, they don't want potential students [customers] and other stakeholders to contact them by email - now that is sooooooo, well .... 1950.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

puzzling website (sat) navigation

I'm sure they have their reasons - it is probably related to stock categories and display in physical stores, but from this front page for, where do you think you would find in-car sat nav systems?
I went for 'DIY & car', but there was no sign of sat navs on that page. Now I know Tesco do sat nav systems as I have seen them in-store, so I looked for a site search facility. But there is not one on the front page [they must think their product categorization and site navigation is so good that they don't need it there - though it does appear on all subsequent pages ... go figure]. So I looked around the other product-category options and tried the only one that had any vague connections to what I was looking for - 'PC, photo & gaming', and got this page.
Again, I assume they had their reasons, but taking up around half of the above-the-fold page [and I have a fairly big screen] with a single ad strikes me as being questionable - maybe it works as a promotion, but it certainly knocks usability. This is because I didn't realise I needed to scroll down to see the full navigation bar of featured categories [which is in the middle of the page, not where you would normally expect it to be], and 'sat nav' beginning with and 's' put it at the end of the alphabetical list.

It was only at this point that I realised there was an in-site search, and used it to find the relevant pages. But I can't help thinking that Google would have found a seller of sat nav systems for me a whole lot quicker.

Monday, August 31, 2009

the suffix says 'uk' - there's a reason for that

This one is a bit of a double whammy in the doh! stakes.

First off, I'm already a member of - so why send me this email asking me to join?

And second, take note of the small print that says I must be in the USA to enter. This email was sent to my work address - which ends in That means I work at a university in the UK. And that means I am not a US resident.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

sorry I missed you

The otherwise excellent had [what I thought] was a well-presented ad on the top of its web pages - looking like a hand-written reminder note.The problem is, I took this screen shot on the 26th of August.

to all advertisers: if a promotion is date-specific, make a note to remove all ads when that date has passed.

Friday, August 14, 2009

making it hard to say goodbye

Some time ago I was looking for organizations that facilitate self-publishing - one of which was AuthorHouse. Today I got a nice polite email asking if I was still interested in their services. Nothing wrong with that, good business practice I would say. However, I do not need their services, so clicked on the link at the bottom of the email ...
... which took me to a web page that asked me to enter my email address ...
... which returned this message:
Hello ... if I hadn't received an email from you how have I arrived at this form on this web page? I didn't bother clicking on the 'contact us' link - I'll just delete future emails [unless they read this, of course]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

oh oh oh oh O2

I could not make sense of my o2 mobile phone bill, and on the paper version it said 'see for more information'. So I went to the web address. And I logged in, and I got this page:
And when I clicked on the 'balances and bills' link, I got this page:
Which as you can see has nothing at all about balances and bills. So I thought I would email the o2 folk and tell them their website wasn't working properly, and clicked on the 'email us' link [I should remind you at this point that 02 is a communications company] and got this page.
Yes, having clicked on one link for 'email' I now had to click on another link for the same thing, and got this page:
So I filled in the 'mobile information' button and then 'next' ... and got this page:
Which required me to complete a form, including a drop-down menu with three options, but not including my 'annual' subscription method of payment. It also asked if I was an iPhone owner. Hmm, I wonder if I will get emails about buying one some time soon? They also wanted my full name and email address - the latter being the only information they really need to reply to my query [which, remember, is actually a note doing them a favour by telling them their website isn't working - would a customer with a simply query about buying a new phone have bothered with all of this?].

However, they were not content with this information - they wanted my full address and birthday, for 'security' reasons. Again, I remind you everyone who wants to send them a simple email message must go through this, plus I had logged into the site, that should be security enough.
And so finally, I get to the message box:
Now that's what I call customer centric website design that will encourage customers to develop a firm and long-lasting relationship with the organization. Or perhaps not - what do you think?

UPDATE: The response to my message was both prompt and comprehensive, explaining that to access my bills online I needed a new login and password, one of which was in the email and the other sent to my mobile as a text message. Can't help thinking, however:
1 why did my original registration for the site not include access to all aspects of it? and ..
2 when I tried to access the bills page why not show me a message telling me what was going on?

So ... full marks to the 'problems' people - but in pure business terms, I would be looking to make you redundant by better website management - sorry.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

hello SMS ... meet online

I had to pick my sister up from Manchester Airport at 7.30pm, so I went online in the afternoon to get the airport's phone number to ring nearer pick-up time to see if the flight was online. There was no phone number - but an SMS sign-up. You send the flight number to the number given and it sends you a text when the 'plane lands and when the luggage is in the baggage collect area. So I signed up [let's not go into the issue of folk who do not have a mobile phone and would prefer a contact phone number to ring].

The confirmation email ended with the message: "new pick-up road layout see". So I went online to check this out. And got this page ...

As you can see, this page doesn't seem to have been updated for nearly two years - and there is nothing about any 'new road layout'.

And as a footnote: I didn't get any text messages about the flight ... good job I was there on time - even if the aircraft wasn't.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

all packed up and nowhere to go

My wife and I fancied a week's break in the sun [lecturers? ... always on holiday], so I tried a couple of 'comparison' sites, including this one. Sadly - and it is a brand leader here in the UK - the site wouldn't let me choose a destination. Message for Teletext's marketers and techies : there are plenty of other sites out there on which punters can book a holiday.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

ad landing page - how not to do it

One of the key issues in online advertising is making sure that when the customer clicks on the ad they are taken to a landing page that plays its part in the sales funnel that will - eventually - lead to a sale. Remember that any click on the ad will cost the advertiser money - so take a look at this ad from GQ magazine that appeared on one of my web pages:

Now take a look at the web page that anyone clicking on that ad was taken to. You will notice that there is nothing about a restaurant guide for anywhere in the world, never mind in Athens.OK, so there was a link the size of the 'taste news' below the fold of the web page that appeared - but it was a restaurant review, not restaurant guide.

All in all, a perfect example of poor Internet marketing.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

hello accounts ... have you met e-marketing?

This email landed in my in-box the other day.
Good idea, green and all that stuff - indeed, I've signed up for similar schemes with other services. But here's the problem:

Just the day before I received a letter [yes, paper] saying that MBNA were closing my account. A distinct lack of joined-up thinking.

And if you are thinking I'm a bad credit risk - they closed it because I haven't used the card for over two years. As I recall I left it 81p in credit to annoy them after an incident where they added on a load of interest because one [yes, one] payment got caught up in the Christmas 'Bank Holiday' season and was a day late.

You will also note this is not the first time I've featured MBNA on this blog, see: the key to email marketing ...

Monday, May 25, 2009

scrolling across at the BBC

2009 saw a major revamp of the BBC's website - and in my opinion it is a significant step backwards for a site I previously used as an exemplor of good practice [see also my comments 1, 2, 3 ]. This time it is a function that opens to the right of the existing page rather than to the left - causing the user to scroll across to see all of the content. Not good enough, BBC.
Footnote: August 2010 - the problem has been fixed.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

bait-and-switch is still around

About two years ago I feature several examples of what is known as 'bait-and-switch' [ see 1, 2, 3 ]. The idea is that you attract the unwary customer with some bait [say, a low priced product] and then 'switch' them to higher-priced goods when they respond to the bait. Whilst this is an acceptable form of promotion it becomes unethical - and in the UK, illegal - if the bait product does not exist for the customer to purchase.
Well, it's not gone away - as these two images show. The first is an email I received, the second is the web page I got when I clicked on the 'more details' link.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

nice integration

This email arrived today ...
I would give the idea full marks if not for the email not arriving until after five o'clock - which meant that I didn't read it until after the show aired. Yesterday would have been better.

Monday, May 4, 2009

get a better picture of what you're buying

Here's a clever application I came across on the website. It's very simple, but allows you to look at different aspects of a product in greater detail - in this case, shoes. Nice.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

email : poor relation of communications … or just plain rude?

I've held off on writing this one to let the guilty party have time to come good - but time has been called on my patience.

I am subscribed to Auto Express, which arrives through my letterbox every week. Normally it is a good read - it keeps me up-to-date with all the new cars that I can't afford!

So, come the edition for the week commencing April 6th and I noticed a couple of errors.

The first was in a review for the Toyota IQ, bemoaning the fact that it has no luggage cover. Well, it does, but it is hidden under the boot floor.

The second was in an article about the UK's car tax system which failed to tell readers that two of the new tax brackets were being held at a lower rate for the next two years, with quite a hike in price after that. Pretty important I feel as the article advised folk to buy cars in those brackets for the 'lower' rate of tax.

So I sent two separate emails addressed to the relevant contacts listed at the front of the magazine.

In both I was polite, informal and in the cases of the second article expressed that I was going on information gathered from a number of sources which might be wrong and Auto Express might be right.

If you follow this blog you will know what is coming next.

Yep, no reply. Nothing. Not even an auto-response acknowledgement that they received my emails [I'm sure they did, my University's email system lets me know of any 'un-deliverable' mailings].

There have been two editions of the mag since I sent the emails - and there is no mention of any 'corrections' to the original stories.

Of course, their email system might have been down for a while or giving them problems - if this is the case a message in the mag apologising for any inconvenience would be nice.

So Auto Express,
as I have said on this blog before; do you ignore a ringing phone? No? So if you are going to list your email addresses I assume you are inviting communications via that medium - an assumption based on the fact you have an 'email of the week' on the 'readers comments' page - so reply to them. Not to do so is bad for business.

It is also rude.

Footnote, August 4 2009 - it seems poor, or no, response to emails is [still] a widespread problem, see Businesses still taking days to respond to website enquiries

Thursday, April 23, 2009

not quite online booking

I need to visit Cleethorpes - my home town - on business next month. So I thought I would see if I could get a room at my favourite hotel on the sea fron - the Kingsway. Now, the hotel's site doesn't do online bookings at all - not too unusual as many independent hotels find it more cost effective to let third-party agents handle this rather than buying in and running the necessary software.

So I put the hotel's name into Google and perused the various third-part listings. Several offered online bookings, but I was looking for the best price so I kept looking - and came across Now ,I do not know their business model, but their booking form looked like this:
Yep, that's not a booking form, it's an email form. Not only would I have to wait for them to return my enquiry with room rates, availabiliy etc, but they expect me to give them more details than is necessary [phone number?]. Being the old synic that I am I wonder if I would end up on their mailing list?

Any-whoo ... I went back to one of the other sites and booked online with a confirmation of price and availability done and dusted there and then

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

informality pays dues

I always advise organizations to match their web presence to the ethos, style or character of the organization - and here is a good example. Acre Resources is a recruitment firm specialising in CSR, Sustainability, Climate Change and Environment. As befitting a company in that industry, they adopt an informal approach to the way they go about their business - which is reflected in their website's design.
I particularly like the 'meet the team' page on which staff are represented not by their pictures or avtars, but 'jelly babies', clicking on each figure brings up the bios of the various staff. Nice touch.

Monday, April 20, 2009

phone me and I'll pay

It is still beyond me that folk will hand over their credit card in a restaurant and let a member of staff take it away, but are unwilling to use the same card online. However, such people exist, and if you are selling on the web you have to facilitate them. Here is an excellent example from - you fill in all of your information [order, delivery address etc] on the online form except your credit card details - then click on the link and someone phones you up. Nice.

Friday, April 17, 2009

'ello John, want a new motor?

I was looking for cars on the generally excellent autotrader website, which seems to work OK even though it keeps telling me I need 'additional plugins'. Following a link for a particular car I was taken to the website of Arthur Haslam Motoring - and got this ...

And do you know what Arthur? I really was looking for a car. And the car you had was of interest ... but there were others on sites that downloaded on my PC.

What is the opposite of kerr-ching?