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Why do people visit your website?

4 min read

There seems to be a lack of understanding among the masses about how people actually find themselves on your website, but is it actually that different from brick and mortar shops?

What makes you shop at the local supermarket? Is it convenience? Is it reputation? Is it the brand? In truth, customers are driven to a store on a variety of factors and this rings true on the web as well.

The visitors to your website arrive either through search, sharing or on the strength of your brand. What are you doing to harness these vehicles?

Search
People are trained to use search engines to find content, products and services and search will probably drive more visitors to your website than any other method. Back in 2010, Google processed 34,000 searches per second or about 3 bilion per day, so you need to make sure your site is search engine friendly. If you can't figure out how to do that you need the help of a SEO specialist who will do a variety of things to your site which will make it more appealing to a search engine. However, no SEO expert can turn lead into gold. You absolutely need to have good content.If you don't have good content, it doesn't matter how good your SEO guy is, your visitors won't like your content and eventually it will slip down the search rankings.
What make good content? Any content that visitors find useful, whether it be a product that is in stock or a full explanation of the service that you provide or an up-to-date menu for your take away.

When you understand how people arrive at your site from search, you have a better understanding of what makes your readers tick and you can use this to create better content. You therefore need to also research what words and terms people are using when they come to your site and you can do that with google analytics and looking at your keywords.

Sharing
Email was the first method people used to share internet links with their friends and family, but it's the rise of the social network that has really driven the growth of sharing. There are lots of tools dedicated to sharing content with other sites and your "followers" including plugins such as the tweet this and the facebook like buttons. Does your site employ these? If not why make it difficult for your users to share your content? If you have an online store and one of your visitor's sees something that they think one of their friends would like, you need to make that process as simple as possible otherwise you could miss out on a potential sale.

To find out how many of your visitors are coming from social networks (or indeed sharing your content) you need to spend some time looking at your website analytics.

Brand
Established businesses cannot afford to rely solely on their brand to drive traffic to their website, but it is useful if customers have your brand in mind when they go online to look for something. Therefore, it is essential that if they search for your brand or product that they find you!
If you have an offline presence e.g. a shop, make sure that people know that you also have a website. Print your web address on any signs that you have, include it on till receipts and make sure that it is printed clearly (and accurately) on any promotional material that you produce.

If you provide sponsorship, maybe to a local sports team, make sure that your brand is easily found on the web. If I search for "your brand" what will I find? The last thing you want to find is nothing or worse still your competitor! So before stumping up the cash for a sponsorship deal make sure the branding reflects what you know people will find if they search for you online.

I find it hard to believe that during a recession, so many businesses still don't advertise their website and so many more fail when it comes to having up-to-date content on their site. They are literally turning customers away.

This is just a quick overview of what I think are the essentials of understanding your website vistors, but please leave a comment if you disagree or have any other useful advice.

Use Sentiment Analysis To Understand Your Customers

12 min read

Sentiment analysis provides the tools which enable you to learn what your customers are saying about your product. This will help you build a better understanding of your customers.

[caption id="attachment_833" align="alignright" width="100"] Download this article as a PDF[/caption]

“Sentiment analysis or opinion mining refers to the application of natural language processing, computational linguistics, and text analytics to identify and extract subjective information in source materials.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentiment_analysis

Eh?

Basically it’s good to know what people are saying about your company or your product.

So how do you gather this information?

In the old days, companies spent lots of cash doing consumer research by surveying people on the street, in focus groups and via the telephone. Today, companies can ask people to complete online surveys when the visit their website or contact them via email to follow up an online purchase. Despite the advancement in technology, the questions remain the same.
What do you think of the service? How easy was the transaction? Would you recommend the product? And so on.
However, people lie in surveys. Think about it. How truthful are you when you complete a survey? Do you always tick the right age box? What about your financials, do you pretend to have a £10k or a £100k a year job. I mean what harm does it actually do?

The point I’m making is that the research is only so good. It’s like stats.
63% of people who visited this blog ‘liked’ the page on facebook.
Over what time period?
The previous stat doesn't reveal that! Stats can be used to hide a lot of relevant information.

So what are the options?

Customer surveys are only part of tracking feedback. We live in a culture which publishes blogs, reviews, status updates and emotions online and in public. This is good as it allows companies to mine that data for references that are relevant to them. Sentiment analysis allows you to use that information to find out what people are saying about your company / brand / products / staff.

How to start.

Define your overarching objective and be realistic.
Why do you want to know what your customers are saying?
Is it going to affect your price point, your marketing strategy, what products / services you provide?
Be honest.

What’s your budget?
Do you have the resources to carry out customer surveys?
Ask your customers a direct question. If you are on social networking sites, ask your followers for feedback. You can use the front page of your website to promote a customer feedback survey or just ask people to complete a comments section.

Let’s talk about conducting online research

You could go to google and enter a search term and collate the results, but how useful would that be?
Sentiment analysis is all about getting real data together that you can then use to shape your future strategy, policy, or product line.

Before discussing some of the tools that can help you conduct your research I want to explain how you will score content so that it is actually useful.

Let’s use the example that you’re trying to find out what people think of the “iPhone”.

Example content from a review site:
“I bought an iPhone 3GS. Well I say bought, but it was free with a contract. The contract is expensive but the phone will be worth it. I hope! After only a few hours use I can see that the battery wont last all day, but I don’t mind as I’ve already downloaded lots of cool apps. I love Apple products.”

Example content from twitter:
“One thing I can't live without? My iPhone 4.”

Example content from facebook:
Woohoo!! Just got a white iPhone. I’m now one of the cool kids ;) Anyone know any good apps or have tips on how I can really make use of it? I can’t figure out how to get my music onto it either, any help would be great. Thanks.”

Example review from Apple.com:
“The iPhone 4 is the best phone ever, not just by design but it also has the best apps. I use it everyday.”

Example review from Play.com
“The HTC Sensation is way better than the iPhone. While people claim the iPhone has better apps, that is no longer the case. The HTC has a far better battery than the iPhone and while the iPhone has a great screen, it’s smaller than the sensation as it therefore not as good”.

From the five examples above the iPhone would seem to get favourable reviews. However, let’s take a closer look.
To quantify the data you need to set some parameters.
Who is writing these reviews? Let’s assume that they are written by ordinary people.
Do they seem genuine? I believe that the reviews above are genuine.
What are they talking about? The iPhone of course!
Really?
Which model?

This is the first obstacle you will encounter. From the outset the search term was too broad and produced results that weren't specific enough. Each of the examples could be talking about a different iPhone. Not one mention the size of the included memory.

Keep thinking about your overall goal. If your objective is just to research the brand “iPhone” then the examples above can still be used. If it’s to assess the iPhone 4 then the first review can be discounted.

Once you are sure that the data you have collated is valid i.e. refers specifically to the task at hand, you should then try and score each statement. You can do this by asking the following questions:
Is the statement positive?
Is the statement negative?
Is the statement neutral?

You will need to develop a scale which you can then score the statement against e.g. a positive statement receives a score of +2, neutral 0 and negative -2.

It’s not always easy to judge whether a statement is positive or not. There are additional factors that will need to be considered.

  • What are the emotional components of the sentence and how do these influence the classification e.g. anger, sadness or happiness?
  • We would need to how much influence that statement could have e.g. is it a tweet to 20 people or an article on Amazon?
  • Is the facebook page private?
  • Is the statement opinion or fact?
  • Is the statement provided by the owner or is the statement a quote by another?

In the examples above I have added the bold font and red colour, but what if the original author used different fonts to create emphasis on their words?
The intended message could have a different meaning with certain words written in bold. It is important that you factor this into you calculation. Consider why a person has taken the time to highlight a positive (or negative) feature.

Where does the author mention the pros and cons of the product within the review? These positional features indicate the strength of the piece. A review that starts on a negative tone will most likely be negative overall. People tend to lead with their strongest emotion.

Here is a quick guide on what to do:
1. Determine objective - “I bought an iPhone”.
2. Determine document subjectivity - is it a factual statement or opinion?
3. Determine document orientation - is the statement positive, negative or neutral?
4. Determine the strength of the orientation - i.e. weakly positive, mildly positive or strongly positive.
5. Determine the sentiment - what emotional components are in the statement i.e. it’s a nice phone.
6. When was the statement written? This can help deduce what product model the review refers to.

If you follow these six steps you will have a good understanding of what the statement says about your company or product.

What if an article contains both positive and negative phrases? How can that be evaluated? Is there a weighting formula?
Break up the statement into scoring chunks.
Weight the statement by keyword, emphasis (e.g. bold type), where it’s published, small following, how influential, private / public etc.
Things to remember: how many times is the keyword mentioned? Is there a lot of emphasis? Does the person have a small social media following? Is it a popular website? Is the post public or private?

I suggest that you plot this data on a chart
Bar charts can help you visualise the data

1 = keyword
2 = positive orientation
3 = negative orientation
4 = level of influence
5 = negative orientation

This is just an example to give you an idea of how useful plotting your data on a chart or a graph will be in determining the overall sentiment associated with just one phrase.

Of course, you will be able to find many different sources of information regarding your company or products, the trouble is how do you quantify them all? Is that realistic? I firmly believe that depending on the volume, companies should only take a snapshot of data e.g. information published one week per month or one month per year and analyse that. I would account for any outside influences e.g. product launches or news related items about your company during this time period.

You should look at each resource individually i.e. score updates on twitter, then score updates on facebook, then product review sites, then blogs etc. Once this is completed you will have total scores for each network that you can then plot on another graph which will give you an overall snapshot of opinion.You may decide to weight each network differently e.g. if you sell on Amazon, an Amazon review is going to be more influential than a blog post.

A simple formula that could help you with this process is:

Ci = {C1, C-3, C4, C0}

and

D = {Ci, Cii, Ciii, Civ, Cv}

C can be used to represent a classification e.g. a keyword. So if your company was trying to assess sentiment against a range of products each product would be identified by a different keyword and hence would be represented by Ci, Cii, Ciii etc.
Ci is the sum of the figures within the series {C1, C-3, C4, C0}.
C can also represent different places you have researched e.g. Ci = twitter, Cii = facebook, Ciii = Amazon etc.
You just need to make sure that you understand what you need C to represent and then run with it.

D will represent your companies / products overall score and will provide a representative sentiment analysis.
D is the sum of the figures within the series {Ci, Cii, Ciii, Civ, Cv}

A screenshot of the twitter sentiment website
If you find that you are swamped by data you can try using an automated service such as Twitter Sentiment(screenshot above) which is “a Twitter sentiment analysis tool. Research the positive and negative opinions about a product or brand.”

Tools

There are many tools that you can use to track sentiment online, but you can start with google alerts, twitter and facebook searches.
With google alerts you can establish a search query specifically relevant to you and have google email that to you each day. Google will search websites, blogs, news sites etc and email you the results, thus saving you from having to repeat the search on a daily basis.
Twitter allows you to save searches and to track , but I’d recommend using a tool like Seesmic or tweetdeck to view these searches. These will allow you to see every time you have been @ mentioned or how many times someone has tweeted about your brand name or product. You can have many ongoing searches making it easy to monitor on an ongoing basis.
Seesmic and tweetdeck will also monitor your facebook pages and notify you when someone leaves a comment against one of your posts.
Bing has agreement with facebook that gives them access to facebook profiles, so head to http://www.bing.com/social and enter your query.
Blekko is another site that searches facebook e.g. http://blekko.com/ws/iphone+/facebook
so don’t limit your tools to just a few applications.

One trap that you definitely do not want to fall into is spending all day everyday searching social media sites. If you set these tools up correctly, you should only be checking in a couple of times per day. Respond where necessary and record sentiment when it comes up. Only analyse the data when you can set aside the appropriate amount of time. So your work flow could be that you check your data once per day for 10 minutes and you spend another 10 minutes capturing feedback. Compile that information in whichever way suits you e.g. copy and paste into Word or onto a spreadsheet. At the end of the month you can then spend a few hours going through the data with the aim of producing a sentiment analysis which you will then use to review your existing products or services.

Conclusion

With sentiment analysis it is easy to get carried away and spend too much time focusing on finding and rating content that describes your product, which can take your focus away from developing great products or services. You definitely need to find the correct balance between conducting the research and actually carrying out your business activity.
However, the importance of sentiment analysis cannot be stressed enough. Even a little research into what people think about your products can help your business overall. If you are deaf to customer complaints your business will start to get into trouble.

Feedback! I’d like your thoughts on this article.

Do you think it is wrong, factually incorrect, glosses over important topics?
What has been your experience with sentiment analysis?
Is your company doing it?
Do you have any tips that you’d like to share?

Thanks for reading.

YOURLS: Your Own URL Shortener

2 min read

[For an overview of what URL Shorteners are and why you should use them, please read my article: URL Shorteners]

YOURLS is a service that you install on your web host for a specific domain that will give you your own URL Shortening service.

I'm going to make some assumptions: You already have a domain name and a web hosting plan.
If you don't have either try 1and1 (affiliate link) for domains and hosting. This blog is hosted with them.
yourls-logo
1. Buy a domain name
2. Buy hosting
3. Configure host
4. Install YORLS
5. You're done.

Ok, so that wasn't much help! If you need domain name inspiration try domai.nr which will show a multitude of domain extensions for your chosen name or phrase. Remember, you want a short domain e.g. CT1.me, so don't be afraid to buy any top level domain name e.g. .im .es .ly .it .eu etc.
Once you find your perfect domain, don't be afraid to shop around for the best price.

Your hosting plan will need PHP and MYSQL support - this need not be expensive but check before you buy!
Installing YOURLS is easy, but make sure you read all the instructions before starting.
Download YOURLS to your computer and follow these steps:

  1. Unzip the YOURLS archive
  2. Copy includes/config-sample.php to user/config.php
  3. Open user/config.php with a raw text editor (like Notepad) and fill in the required settings
  4. Upload the unzipped files to your domain public_html or www folder
  5. Create a new database (see Configuration – you can also use an existing one)
  6. Point your browser to http://yoursite.com/admin/
  7. Follow the onscreen instructions - there isn't many.

Now that you are all up and running you can use your own domain name to track click throughs on links you share on twitter and facebook (or anywhere else).
I chose to use ct1.me only as a URL shortener, so I've got a html redirect pointing to ichristaylor.com, but you could equally create your shortener at yourdomain.com/s/ or s.yourdomain.com.

URL Shorteners

3 min read

Short URLS: You will have seen them. They've been around for ages, but do you know what they are and how you can make them?

URL shorteningis a technique on the World Wide Web in which a URL may be made substantially shorter in length. This involves using an HTTP Redirect on a domain name that is short to link to a Webpagewhich has a long URL. For example, the URL http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=TinyURL&diff=283621022&oldid=283308287 can be shortened tohttp://tinyurl.com/mmw6lb [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_URLs]

URL shorteners have had limited success during the social media boom. Companies like Bit.ly, tr.im, ow.ly and tinyurl all offer pretty much the same service, but why would you use them over your own?

For starters, tr.im is no longer operational after it wasn't able to monetise its operation, so who says the others will be around long enough to be meaningful for you?

Let's start by looking at the benefits of a url shortening service.

1. Shorter url's give you more characters in twitter e.g. ct1.me/1 as opposed to http://ichristaylor.com/six-bad-things-by-charlie-huston/
2. Stats: you can track how many people click on these links and therefore quantify how useful your followers find the information you share. This is different to analytics as the link is tracked rather than the destination.
3. Location: where in the world are your readers (can also be obtained in analytics)
4. Traffic sources: where are your links being shared and clicked through.

If you publish anything on social networks, using a URL shortener is just good practice. Creating your own URL shortener is good business. Why? You're not relying on a third party service that might not survive and you take control of stats. You're also not competing with thousands of other users for custom links, and ultimately you will always have reasonably short links.
Combining google analytics, facebook insights etc with your URL shortener will enable you to see the bigger picture i.e. not just what people are reading on your site, but also what is driving them.

I've written a separate article on setting up your own URL shortening service, but if that's not for you then definitely check out the services below.

There are many services to choose from, but Bit.ly stands out from the crowd as they offer a (free) Pro account which lets you use your own domain name.
Alternative solutions include, ow.ly, tinyurl.com and is.gd.

What the main social networks use.
Twitter: t.co;
facebook: fb.me;
wordpress: wp.me.
Google: goo.gl;
and YouTube: youtu.be

So what are you waiting for? Go get your own URL Shortening service.

Why would you stop Google indexing your news website?

3 min read

Rupert Murdoch is quoted on the BBC News site today stating that search engines that index "news" are essentially stealing the right to reproduce that content within their own search results.

"There's a doctrine called 'fair use', which we believe to be challenged in the courts and would bar it altogether,"

Is this someone who has fundamentally lost all grasp on reality? Has he, or none of his senior executives ever used the Internet?  I ask these flippant questions on the basis that the majority of Internet users use a search engine when looking for something, may that be clothes, electronics or news!  If News Corp go down the route of blocking search engines from accessing their site, that will mean less people read stories published on News Corp sites.  Less page views means less revenue, but Murdoch has a plan for that.

Murdoch's News Corp are already working on a model that will charge their users to access content within their websites by June 2010.  In fact, News Corp are working very hard:

"No. We are working very, very hard at this but I wouldn't promise that we're going to meet that date.

I understand that a business needs to generate revenue to survive, I really do, but I don't think News Corp (or Murdoch for that matter) understand that very few people will pay to access this type of content online.  The exact business model is unknown, but it has been suggested that there could be a tiered approach with premium content made available to those paying a higher monthly fee, while micro-payments could be applied to those looking to read a single story.

In the UK we have the BBC paid for by the licence fee i.e. it is essentially free to use.  The BBC News website already competes head to head with every news / media organisation out there, therefore if you introduce a subscription model who are your competitors and what will they charge?  As a user I already spend more time on the BBC News site than any other, introducing a pay wall only restricts my access to your site and it certainly does not encourage me to pay to read content that I can get elsewhere for free.

Quoted on Fox News, Murdoch goes on to say:

"There's not enough advertising in the world to make all the Websites profitable. We'd rather have fewer people coming to our Websites but paying.

This is fair enough, but if you compare it to other content industries like music and film how successful are they at this? In the UK I am not aware of any subscription model for watching films online, perhaps Love Film and iTunes can offer a similar service.  In the music business Spotify offers unlimited listening both at your desk and on your mobile for £9.99 per month with no contract.  This seems pretty good value as there are no adverts with this deal, but I wouldn't pay £9.99 per month to read news.
For News Corp to win over customers they will have to charge less than £1 a week and offer some really exclusive content and HD quality video streaming otherwise I fear their plan could backfire on them

Will you pay for content?