Is De-indexing (NSEO) a real threat to your business? – Part 1

In recent years, the marketing world has been shaken by a new phenomenon that has become a dirty word: Negative SEO or NSEO. The other words associated with NSEO are “De-ranking” and “de-indexing” or, in more common parlance, the “disappearance” of your link from search engine pages. Many people are wondering how real the threat of NSEO is, and what its concrete impacts on a company’s online business can be. We should start by explaining that SEO is the optimisation of your website’s visibility and by extension its position in the search engine result pages; this is done by discovering and using a number of criteria that are factored into search engine algorithms. The more closely your site matches the criteria used by search engines to determine whether content is relevant, the more other sites will post links to your site, and the higher your website will rank in the search results. This basically amounts to raising your site’s visibility without having to pay for advertising space. When a content marketing projet goes online SEO must be performed quickly to gain a top spot in search engine results in order to secure a large audience and make a quick and lasting marketing impact. This is precisely the time when the site is at risk of an NSEO attack that could cause it to lose its high ranking. But before going on to further describe and analyze NSEO, here is a bit of historical background.

The Birth of the Internet: from a mere gadget to an essential tool

At its inception (1995-2000), the Web was used by individuals and academics solely for the purposes of sharing information and communicating globally. The idea of individuals creating a website, inventing a concept and being able to put it online quickly was novel at the time.

Efforts to implement a high-quality content strategy can be destroyed by one NSEO attack. Hence the importance of being vigilant and protecting your website from such attacks.

From the year 2000 on, as interest in this new communication medium grew, more and more people began to use the Internet, and consumers especially became interested in exchanging information about products and services; it was at this time that price comparison websites appeared. Companies came into direct competition due to this new and unanticipated use of the Internet.

Around 2005, marketing departments started telling management that it was important to be present on the Web, although at that time the commercial side (sales of new products, before and after-sales service, etc.) was not yet part of that presence. With sites like eBay and PriceMinister, exchanges and sales of secondhand goods developed exponentially. Marketing departments quickly realized that it was to their advantage to use Internet too: there were opportunities for product advertising and promotion, for using new marketing tools, maintaining customer databases, tracking customer behavior, etc.

amazon e-commerce site

As the Web and especially the social networks developed, marketing departments kept control over the company website without necessarily working with their IT departments, although they were in charge of DATA and network services. They gradually turned their sites into sophisticated and highly customised marketing machines that became the chief source of data on customers’ online behavior in addition to data from their retail outlets. Social networks also made it possible to communicate directly with customers.

Today, the situation can be described as follows: the company website has become the cornerstone of sales and marketing activity for companies across all sectors. Another interesting fact is that IT departments are often not part of the team when projects are being implemented, although they should be included not only in the technical side (hardware, back and front office software), but also in Web security in order to protect the investment made by the marketing department.

The aim is not to pit company departments against each other, but to show that historically Internet has arrived in businesses from an unexpected direction and responsibility for Internet activity sits between two departments with different cultures and ways of working. Therefore, website security and NSEO attacks were not necessarily on the marketing department’s radar screen, especially when they were under pressure from the sales department which was following its own agenda. This created a kind of no-man’s land between SEO as it was understood from a marketing standpoint and Web security as seen by the IT department.

While this situation still exists today, the website is now critical to the life of a company. In addition, the fact that the Web is global and totally open has resulted in the appearance of techniques designed to thwart the sales and marketing strategies used by marketing departments on the corporate website; these techniques are questionable (if not outright dishonest) and extremely devious, and one of them is NSEO.

What exactly is NSEO and what are its impacts on content marketing?: information or disinformation?

In the keen global competition that companies encounter on the Web, some may be tempted to harm their competitors by using means that verge on the illegal. These damaging tactics are nearly impossible to trace and have a direct impact both on the company’s turnover and share price. Expedia appears to have been the victim of precisely such tactics in the U.S. in January 2014. Read more

Disruption explained in a few hundred words

Whether in Silicon Valley, or basically anywhere else in the world, people talk about ‘disruptive innovation’ or simply ‘disruption’. Do they really know what it means? Or they are just trying to follow that new trend, and fit in the ‘innovation world’? Actually, knowing what disruption means makes you more sophisticated than just randomly using the word. This is why this article is a must-read.

What is disruption?

You should thank Clayton Christensen, of Harvard Business School for this “new” term. He used it in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, to describe innovations that created new markets by discovering new categories of customers. I believe that these two words are losing their serious aspect, and are becoming more of “buzzwords”, that a lot of people use on social media. Indeed, the word was mentioned more than 2,000 times in articles last year. But a lot of people still get it wrong.

There are two types of “innovators”: those who simply work to improve existing products (this is what we call ‘sustainable innovation’). And those who invent new products, creating new markets. And these are called ‘disruptive innovators’.

Let’s go back in time, when people used to go from one place to another in horse carriages. Back then, “innovators” obviously tried to find ways to make the horses go from point A to point B faster. Until the first automobile was invented. New markets were created. Also, new needs and demands had to be served. So, in other words, new business models had to be put in place. As a matter of fact, disruption is a process, not just a product or a service offering, like a lot of people might believe.

This gives you a clearer picture of what a “disruption” or a “disruptive innovation” is. It is a new way of exploiting old or existing technology, to create something pioneering.

sustainable vs disruptive innovation
There is a fine line between sustainable innovation and disruptive innovation

What is uberization

Uber, the multinational online taxi dispatch company, is the first example that comes to one’s mind when talking about ‘disruption’.

Read more

B2B sales: The downfall

In this article, we discuss how different sectors such as banking and accounting were affected by the growth of digital transformation. We emphasise  the impact digital transformation has on sales. The B2B sale sector was considered to some extent protected from the transformation wave. But it somehow appears to be hit by this phenomenon too, in a big way. Actually, there are two sides to this story that are debatable. 

B2B sales impacted by digital transformation and Big Data

On the one hand, B2B sales is said to be resilient, since it is based on one-to-one contact and individual salesmanship. 10 years ago, famous author and researcher Bernard Cova told me that a B2B brand appears to be less important than a B2C brand. He believed then that the contact with the salesperson at the time of the purchase was a definite advantage, as opposed to B2C. What he meant by that is that it doesn’t matter if your brand changes or even disappears, as long as there’s someone to explain it to customers. In a way, what Bernard said is true. In fact, a small consulting firm like ours, is able to gain the trust of big accounts. It’s simply true because of our capabilities to explain and deliver services to clients in earnest, based on our expertise.

Ironically, buyers dislike salespeople, but they love to buy from them

Nevertheless, all that Bernard Cova told me 10 years ago is no longer entirely true anymore today. B2B sales is changing completely, in all types of markets (lower-end, mid-tier and high-end markets). Ironically, buyers dislike salespeople, but they love to buy from them.

B2B sale
B2B sales caught in a downward spiral

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Low impact of digital suggests acceleration of pace of change in future

It is customary to say that we are living very innovative times, that the changes we are going through are huge, and that our economy is fast-paced and innovative. When asked for evidence, technology pundits will always come up with the same answer: Internet and Smartphones are ubiquitous. While there is no denying the fact that both the Internet and Smartphones have had a tremendous impact on our lives and the way we do business, our times may well be far less innovative than originally thought. In his piece “Beyond The Internet, Innovation Struggles to Lift Productivity” (published by WSJ on August 12, 2015), Greg IP offers explanations, beyond mere appearances. As I read his piece this Summer, it also triggered thoughts that, if anything, one will have to accelerate the integration of digital in the “real world” in the next few years, not slow it down. This may come as a shock to many people.

The crux of the problem is here: does technological innovation have an impact on overall productivity? Apparently it doesn’t (“productivity grew just 0.4% per year over the past five years, one of the slowest stretches in the period since World War II” says IP). Many things, beyond the Smartphone, have not changed that much. In the past 30 or 40 years. Indeed, according to Greg IP, there are three possible reasons for this:

1. pessimistic assumption: innovation is happening and is grossly exaggerated. It has no, or not much impact,

2. optimistic assumption: it does have an impact but it can be measured,

3. neutral (neither optimistic nor pessimistic) assumption: it is happening but has no impact on the “real” world. It only

Construction of the metroplitain subway in paris 60 728

Legend: It took four years for Paris Metro engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe to finalise his plans for the crossing of the Seine. In 1910, he directed the works which led to the freezing of the soil for a length of approx. 70 yards with 57 17m deep shafts filled with brine of calcium chloride at -27°C. Imagine doing that in 2015? In 2015, the extension of line 4 for 1 extra station beyond the peripherique was finally completed after 4 years of disruption.

Explanations for the low impact of digital on productivity gains?

IP opts for solution number three and has an explanation for this (based on the work of Michael Mandel for the progressive Institute):

1. advances in applied sciences (like thermoplastics and maybe new alloys and metals) have stalled. All the new products which the 1950-1960 golden era of chemistry has produced are now ubiquitous. Innovation is only marginal. biosciences aren’t working – this is IP speaking – or rather are unable to produce such breakthroughs as the invention of antibiotics. A rather negative statement, yet many of my discussions with my scientific-trained wife end up in the same alley: there are few advances in those departments nowadays, or at least they tend to be less spectacular,

2. productivity gains are far less impressive – still Greg IP speaking – than ever before. Planes carry more people but there aren’t very different from what they used to be in the late 1950s. With With the loss of the Concorde, one may even find that speed has decreased. One of the reasons for this may be that our Society is less focused on innovation, and technological prowess, and more prone to raise issues about safety. Both subjects aren’t that compatible,

As our workforces (in Western countries at least) are moving rapidly away from manufacturing and focusing massively on service and knowledge work (I’ll get back to that when I analyse the latest McKinsey report), I would however disagree with IP’s point about productivity gains. Even though it’s hard to measure. I know for sure how I can assess the impact of new technologies on the kind of work that I, and our consultants at Visionary Marketing, are doing. Most of us are able to manage or even deliver, single-handedly, up to 10 different engagements at the same time. That would not have been possible even 10 years ago. Maybe the maximum of projects I could have managed up until the end of the 1990s was 2 or 3 (I mean large ones). The increase in productivity in that department, really is spectacular. Yet, it is hard to measure with hard facts and figures. It took years before can manufacturing was taken into account in the calculation of GNP according to French economist Daniel Cohen, it may well then take another 10-20 years before IT and digital are actually accounted for in productivity gains when economists decide to measure them.

All I know however is that the current impact of digital on most industries is still weak and changes are taking place very slowly. It may not look like that to many professionals who are already struggling with the idea of making digital technology and ally in their daily tasks, but if anything, the pace of change is bound to accelerate; not slow down. That’s how I see and interpret Mandel’s study: productivity gains due to digital may be low at the moment, but chances are that, for that very reason, the implementation of digital change in organisations will tend to intensify in the future. Be ready for it.

Internet Pioneers Prague Meeting Highlights Need for ODR (Online Dispute Resolution) in E-commerce

These are my minutes from the discussions amongst the members of the private Youstice* meeting which took place in Prague on October 18-19, 2014 at the Aria hotel, right in the centre of the Czech capital, and barely a stone’s throw from the house where Franz Kafka used to live. Yet, our discussions were by no way Kafkian. On the opposite, they made it possible for us to link all the issues related to today’s e-commerce customer relationship management. The notions of trust and respect were at the centre of all debates, therefore highlighting the need for trusted third parties, mostly in Europe, even though the approach, as often, is different from country to country.

[*Disclosure: Youstice is my client]

ODR - Doc Searls

Doc Searls in Prague: despite what the message in Czech on the screen says, a clear signal was sent by the co-author of the Cluetrain manifesto during our meeting: respect your clients!

E-commerce: it’s a matter of trust

Doc Searls’ initial title for this discussion was “terms and policies individuals assert”. The discussion started with a consensus around Doc’s introduction to the meeting: “freedom of contract was established a long time ago in order to do business but in 1943, in order to gain scale, the law was changed, which means that one party is issuing the contract and the other is forced to accept or reject it (as when we buy stuff from Websites and are forced to accept terms of conditions which keep changing)” Doc said. Doc Searls, for those who can’t remember, is a co-author of the Cluetrain manifesto, which is still available at http://cluetrain.com; a fundamental piece of Internet marketing literature which was already pinpointing the need to consider Web viewers not as “eyeballs”, but human beings(1).

As is always the case with the Internet, all users are decision makers, whether some merchants like it or not; and from there came the idea of ‘do not track(2)’. “We are right at the beginning of that” Doc went on. A company called the Respect Network(3) have issued a document entitled the “respect trust framework(4)” which spells out principles like “both parties will respect the boundaries of the other party”. These issues of trust and respect are at the heart of the need for Online Dispute Revolution (ODR) as we will find out later on.

Two parties of equal power

Essentially, there is a need to “establish contracts between two parties of equal power” Doc went on. It is very early days but one thing that is happening is that “the system we have is broken and it needs to be fixed”. What was working well for few large companies in the industrial age isn’t working that well in the Internet age at all. “A lot of people are coming to us from Salesforce.com and other large Internet companies” Doc Searls added, and they understand that they need to deal with customers in a much better way. They used to think we were “communists” but this is over, they are jumping on the bandwagon now.

A new effort is also going on in the UK about what Doc called “consent receipt” for which any time a customer gives consent, they get a receipt. “This is a step forward in the right direction” he added. They are working on the “log in with respect” button with regard to Facebook and other social connect mechanisms. It’s hard to say what Facebook will be up to with your data. “If one comes up with this alternative button, there’s code which one will be able to install on site-side. This ensures that one enforces respect and issues statements you won’t tamper with users’ data” Doc explained. January is the potential release date, currently going through Kickstarter.

B.A. may not need an ODR (Online Dispute Resolution) system, but smaller players do

Esther Dyson, once head of ICANN in the early days of the Internet, joined the conversation mentioning that if there is “an issue with privacy, there is also one with regard to trust”. “British Airways doesn’t really need an ODR system like Youstice because they already have a reputation” Dyson said; even though there has been some traction with larger merchants and e-merchants which would tend to prove that a trusted third party for dispute resolutions is not only a technical solution; it is also instrumental in reassuring clients who expect neutrality and fairness. “The target for ODR is the sites that customers don’t trust” Dyson went on. Respect isn’t enough. Indeed, consumers want to be able to trust the shops they buy from. This is only natural in an increasingly globalised world where extra European buyers can make online purchases from 3-4 different merchants, not always located in the same country. It is hard to trust someone you cannot see in a country you know nothing about.

ODR - Esther Dyson

Esther Dyson (middle) with entrepreneur Zbynek Loebl (right). Meeting with Esther was like meeting a legend. The first time I heard about the Internet was in a Channel 4 program in 1994! (the program was entitled “Visions of Heaven and Hell” things haven’t changed that much after all!

The aim of ODR: reduce the number of disreputable merchants

“The ODR promise is that we’ll give customers the potential to negotiate one to one and resolve issue on an individual basis” Esther Dyson pointed out. The idea is to reduce the number of disreputable merchants. One of the issue with privacy though, is “that you never know when it’s been reached; you only know when it’s too late” the former head of ICANN and member of the Youstice board of advisors added. A tower of Babel, and the need for a common language Trust and respect aren’t sufficient, and there are more things in that balance of modern e-commerce which is more and more a cross-border issue: “there is a need for an enforcement mechanism and current legal systems can’t help because they are different in all parts of the world” explained Zbynek Loebl, co-founder of Youstice and our host for that week-end in Prague. And it’s very hard to predict that such enforcement mechanisms could be in place any time soon according to the Czech entrepreneur.

Joyce Searls, co-president, with her husband, of Searls Group(5), commented on Zbynek Loebl’s statement: “there are a lot of little things which can create a river of change when all those efforts will be aggregated and it won’t solve the problem just on the legal side but on the company side too.

We have been tracking this area for so long and it seems that something is happening here at last and all these things are coming together. Things have to be solved,” She said. It is no longer possible indeed, to ignore the need for respect and trust on the part of clients, as well as the requirement to solve disputes when they arise. The future of e-commerce hinges on that, the need to fix its principles, both ethically and technically. Online Dispute Resolution is part of that.

“Resolving claims is how you build a reputation” (Esther Dyson)

Pablo Cortes, our Spanish representative – also a Professor from the Leicester University in the United Kingdom, emphasised the requirement for the market to evolve beyond current practices: “trustees have been in the market for a long time and they have had their code of conduct,” he said, “but if a customer complains about a breach of privacy they never do anything against large businesses because there is a conflict of interest.

Yet, settling disputes isn’t just a negative thing, as pointed out rightfully by Esther Dyson: “one has to understand”, she commented, “that resolving claims is how you build a reputation”. Zbynek Loebl can however see “that this movement is happening, slowly but surely. The obvious example is BBB(6) in the US and there are similar trust marks in Europe” he said. “We at Youstice have well established that retailers could see that improved public policies would be seen as positive by customers and retailers alike and it could be a game changer. And it’s a matter of things catching up with all”.

ODR

The BBB Website banner: for US businesses only

Professor Ethan Katsch(7), who is credited for inventing the field of ODR(8) (Online Dispute Resolution) added that “conflicts of interest become more prominent because of so many entities being in relationship with so many others. You have got to build trust in spite of these conflicts of interests. The old way of building trust was to avoid conflicts of interest,” ODR offers a way to table these issues and solve them. “Is it safe to buy from this retailer?” Asked Zbynek Loebl.

A couple of months ago he just got an email from a VP from a retailer: “we have a request that someone from a country wants to buy from a small e-shop from France, and they want to know whether this e-merchant is safe to buy from; can you help us?” “This,” Zbynek Loebl said, “is a very simple issue, a very simple question and yet, answering that question is almost impossible and the reason for this is globalisation. There are still no simple answers to such simple questions but there are potential solutions.”

ODR

Internet pioneers: some of the attendees of the Prague meeting on Saturday 18 October, 2014

A simple complex question

As a matter of fact, this isn’t a simple question, as pointed out by Esther Dyson in response to Zbynerk Loebl’s anecdote. Yet, with such complex issues, third party services can help: “If customers were asked to have their problems solved by internal departments or third party, I’m certain they would choose third party” Leah Wing, lecturer at the University of Massachussetts/Amherst(9), commented.

“There is a need for that, but as seen in Germany with ‘Trusted shops10’, traction is only being gained and we are not there yet”. Ivan Debnar from Slovakia added: “if I were an merchant, I would like to show I care about my client and there is need for first line support from within the company. This is also instrumental in building trust with one’s customers”. “It is indeed a two step-process,” Ivan Stefanko joined in, “first and foremost, there is customer care”, and next comes Online Dispute Resolution.

The beginning of a new era: VRM supersedes CRM

There is still a lot of evangelisation to do in order that the term ODR is known and the concept develops. Even some of our meeting attendees declared they had never heard the term before. By and large however, the future of e-commerce is no longer a matter of CRM but a matter of trust and respect, and the ability to resolve issues which are sometimes, unfortunately, ignored or minimised by merchants according to Pr. Ethan Katsh.

The empowerment of users and the maturation of e-commerce and especially cross-border ecommerce is calling for new standards where consumers will be able to manage their relationship with their vendors, in much the same way that vendors started managing their relationship with their consumers through CRM, twenty years or so ago.

This, is the beginning of a new era.

______footnotes

(1) Suffice it to say that I have been a fan of the Cluetrain manifesto from day one, and still am. I hold that text for one of the most significant marketing texts ever written. A lot of what Doc referred to during that meeting in terms of respect and trust has to be seen in the light of the manifesto.

(2) http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/tag/do-not-track-no-track/

(3) https://www.respectnetwork.com/

(4) http://openidentityexchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/respect-trust-framework-v2.pdf

(5) http://searls.com/tsg/

(6) http://www.bbb.org/ Better Business Bureau

(7) http://odr.info/katsh

(8) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_dispute_resolution#cite_ref-15

(9) https://polsci.umass.edu/profiles/wing_leah

(10) http://www.trustedshops.com/