Richard Masters                                                  

business advice for  SME's

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Welcome to my personal blog.


In this blog I give my personal views on some of the key business issues facing SME's.


I take the general view that small business is poorly served in this area because it is dominated by people who ultimately have commercial self interest at heart.

By richard masters, Aug 17 2013 07:19AM

Matt Cutts, head of Web Spam at Google, is one of my modern day heroes- as he has been resolute in initiating changes to the search algorithms to return the results listings that best match the users search intent. This crusade can probably be traced back to Christmas 2010 when JC Penny appeared to top the entire search listings within the NY area for just about any product. Enough was enough. A programme of algorithmic changes have followed since that date known collectively as the Penguin and then Panda updates which have progressively outlawed these dubious practices.

These changes, although often criticised at the detailed level, have been almost universally welcomed by everyone involved in Digital Marketing. With the penalising of “Black Hat” methods the emphasis has shifted to the importance to content and content marketing to get noticed in search. Marketers have thrown themselves enthusiastically onto this new altar and articles abound extolling the virtue of creating more and more content.


However, this has created a new problem- the sheer volume of low quality, boring, plagiarised content that is flooding the web, all competing for attention and Googles approval via prominent search ranking.

There is so much content nowadays that it is a full time job to even read the titles on some of the main curated lists circulated on a daily basis! This is before selection of appropriate material to read. Let alone finding the time to read and absorb and evaluate the content itself!

Recent research has confirmed that it is over posting and poor grammar are the two biggest turnoffs for consumers of this deluge of recent content

Now Googles own Quality Guidelines give us lots of clues as to what it regards as quality content but in reality this is just guidance and, in fairness, rooting out the obvious abuses is a herculean task in the short term.

It would be nice to think that user approval systems, such as Googles own +1 system, would be some help but in reality this is more a vote for the popularity of the source rather than the content, (rather like TV talent competitions!) with approval often being given without even reading, let alone evaluating, the content concerned!

So, what could Mr Cutts do address this veritable mud slide of mediocre material? Here are some suggestions based upon my particular pet hates...

1. Relegate content with numbered lists in the title.

I have reproduced, below, an extract from a curated list of articles from a well known source, this shows a whole section in which all of the articles started with some form of numbered list in the title (Three things you did not know about x etc.). Now this is an extreme example, but overall in the lists I analysed, over 40% used this device.

This format, to me, is a key indicator of potential low quality. I do not know who originally concluded that articles in this form are more successful, but it is now part of digital marketing folk law that is avidly adhered to as a winning formula. The reason it is popular, appears to me to be because it allows authors to sling together a series of partially (and usually borrowed) points and quickly produce some impressive looking content. These points have usually been assiduously culled over a period of time and inserted in a note system, or the like, under a ”content ideas” tab for later editing into a post or article.

Giving content that uses this device a lower quality score will no doubt catch a few gems but overall may well cause a significant increase in the overall quality of published content.

2. Downgrade anything with word “Awesome” somewhere in the title

Clearly to be effective, content should be well written and balanced. I find that the vast majority of pieces with “awesome” in the title are usually far from it and usually indicate either a lack of judgment by the author or indeed the desire to impart some importance to the subject matter that simply is not there.

The English language is rich and diverse with a wide choice of adjectives, indeed my battered and aging thesaurus lists awesome under “Wonderful” along with 52 other alternatives (twenty of the best ones are reproduced in the figure below)including such words as: Marvelous, Magical, Stupendous, Sensational, Extraordinary. Fantastic Unbelievable, Fabulous and even Thaumaturgic! All of these words have subtly different connotations and can only make content more informative and meaningful.

So come on Matt send content containing the word “awesome” to room 101 with a hefty quality penalty,

3. Penalize organisations which promote content publishing schedules.

I fully expect howls of outrage at this point! - but stay with me for a moment.

I am in fact a great fan of publishing schedules- but they are not right for everyone. If you are a large organisation with substantial teams of people responsible for producing content or organising content with multiple authorships then, clearly, a publishing schedule is a must for all sorts of good reasons.

Translate this into the situation of a small business or an individual (which are numerically huge compared with the former categories) and you get a recipe for poor content. The tyranny of a schedule allied to the mantra of quantity- you must publish x items daily or at least very regularly, is a formula for the proliferation of low quality dross.

I have over the years stopped subscribing from a number of blogs and the like, simply because although the authors at one time produced interesting and insightful pieces, the quality dropped off , and this was almost always was allied to an increase in the periodicity of publishing. The posts often became clearly formulaic, unoriginal, and often regularly featured the numbered list technique described above.

Unfortunately, the shibboleth that quantity is important is clearly in the best interests of those commercially involved in producing content and therefore will not be popular

4. Demote content from people who have expert, ninja or guru etc. in their description line.

I often wonder what people thing they gain by giving themselves a self appointed title which implies they know what they are talking about and therefore I should pay particular attention to their pearls of wisdom. To me it has the reverse effect.

The motives behind people who attempt to boost their credibility by adopting such titles have to be questioned and therefore, by implication, the veracity of the content they generate.

Now maybe the new authorship index will help this (certainly more than a Klout score!) but this may end up measuring popularity rather than quality- and then we are back into the quantity versus quality argument again.

Matt, in the interim, please mark them down!


This, somewhat light heated, consideration of the current trend towards the overproduction of current does throw up a number of more important considerations:

1. The importance of curation

Personally, most of the content I consume comes via curated lists of some form or another. The problem with this approach is that the vast majority of curation lists concentrate on the basic activities of aggregation and classification. The net result of this is that even scanning the lists to assess what to read in depth (or file away for later) is a herculean task in its own right. I would like to see curators come off the fence and take on the more advanced curation tasks of saying what is good and original and what is not(selecting and contextualising). Clearly this might reduce popularity- but sometimes you have to take risks to move forward.

2. Quality is always relative.

One of the dangers of advanced curation is that what is relevant to one person is not to another. Clearly the requirement of someone who is familiar with a topic is very different from that of a novice. For example, being a complete numpty at even the most basic of DIY tasks them I need really basic guides which a skilled tradesman would regards a complete waste of time and may well scoff with some of the simplistic advice given. In this situation I believe it should be the responsibility of the provider to indicate at what level context the information is being offered at. Some organisations, to their credit, do classify their content into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Wider adoption of this practice by more content creators and curators would help the consumer identify what content is relevant for them.

Well there you have It.- some off the wall ideas on how to stem the tidal wave of mediocre content and avoid having to throw the ‘baby’ of valuable content out will the bathwater of regurgitated dross..

Anybody else got any other ideas for Matt on how to achieve this?

Stop Press

After penning this piece, I note that Google have announced that they are indeed to produce listings of what they regard as in depth and quality pieces of content- wow that was quick Matt!

Richard Masters

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By richard masters, May 15 2013 10:55AM

Recent research has shown that although LinkedIn is widely regarded as the best social platform for new business development in the small businesses B2B sector. In fact a relatively few are successful- but those that are successful are very successful. So what is the key to success?

LinkedIn as a Business development platform

Research by organisations such as HubSpot over the last few years has established that LinkedIn is one of the most effective of the social platforms ( they prefer the term professional networking)- especially for small business in the B2B sector. The diagrams below illustrate these findings.

Furthermore, 2013 research by the Wall street journal and Vistage of small business CEO's has established that not only is LinkedIn the most frequently used platform, it also the one regarded as having the most potential for the future. This can be seen in the following diagram.

The Reality for Most business Users is different

The reality for most small businesses users does not accord with this rosy picture! They have spent time developing a 100% complete "All Star" profile, got hundreds of connections, joined lots of groups, created a company page, got references and endorsements galore- but still no new business!

So who is successful at Business Development on LinkedIn?

An insightful new piece of research by Jill Conrath "Cracking the LinkedIn Sales Code" (free to download if you register), has gone a long way to explaining this conundrum. Some 3094 "sellers" (covering sales, entrepreneurs, consultancy, and management roles) were surveyed. The two diagrams below show the top level findings of the survey.

This shows clearly that only a small percentage of LinkedIn users are in fact very successful at generating leads. Furthermore, it shows that the most successful people have a distinctive characteristics:

-They view LinkedIn as strategic

-They invest a lot of time and effort into it

-They often invest in the additional features offered by the paid version.

What do they actually do differently?

Business development using linkedIn can be seen as a three stage process:

Stage1: Establishing a presence

Stage2: Identifying key prospects and leads

Stage3: Relationship development (lead nurturing)

It is in this third phase that successful users appear to be very different. In particular the following traits stand out:

1. They use linkedIn to develop personal contacts into relationships with the ultimate goal of achieving offline contact with them.

2. They use LinkedIn to extensively research prospects and organisation in greater depth before contact.

3. They actively engage in Groups they join and share resources and enter conversations. Less successful people join groups but simply "lurk"

4. They use the Advanced Search facility to identify leads and create prospect lists (including the advanced filters).

5. They use LinkedIn's InMail facility to contact and establish relationships

6. They use their first level contacts to get referrals

LinkedIn has seen this coming

LinkedIn is a pretty smart organisation and it has clearly seen this demand for relationship development coming and it has quietly introduced a number of new features to support these activities:

1. LinkedIn Business Premium. This is the basic upgrade for business development and offer three levels of additional features covering: InMail messages, Introductions, Open link capability and advanced search options.

2. LinkedIn Sales Navigator. This is a further premium options specifically for "sales pro's" which includes a number of additional features such as insights discovery and engagement. It also features the ability to directly interface with CRM systems such as Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics.

3. Upgraded LinkedIn Contacts. In a recent announcement a significant upgrade to the basic contact functionality was introduced which effectively introduces social CRM capabilities and will allow users to take a holistic view of interactions with connections

It's the dough not the show that matters

The conclusion from the above analysis are:

- LinkedIn can clearly be a successful vehicle for generating new business leads within the B2B sector.

- A "stamp collecting" approach to linkedIn with hundreds of connections, a weighty profile and prolific group memberships, are not the keys to success.

- The key to success would appear to be is to focus resources into using the facilities of linkedIn and basic sales techniques to develop in depth relationships with potential leads.

- linkedIn are progressively introducing new tools to assist with these more in depth business development activities

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