SEO – the ugly duckling of online?

Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO) has been around for decades. Officially beginning back in 1990, it wasn’t until 2001 that many saw the real value of SEO. However, 15 years on and this value is doubted by some, refuted by others and the rest have merely given up.

But should this be the case? Personally, I don’t believe so.

SEOphoto credit to http://www.bullhorn.com

It seems SEO has become misunderstood. The forgotten toy of the digital arena.

When you first had it, it was exciting, intriguing, you couldn’t get enough of it. But as time wore on your interest wavered. Newer toys were coming out, making yours seem less shiny and perfect, you spent more time with  the newer toys, and so less time with the old one. As time with the old toy dwindled, you forgot about it more and more until suddenly no one was playing with it at all.

So, when you came back to it after a while, remembering that toy you used to be so fond of, it seems even more dilapidated and unappealing than you remember. You look back fondly on how you once thought it was top notch but figure that as time has gone on it’s now outdated. But really, time away from it has made it dusty, its quality diminishing as it has gone unattended to, until all that time you played with it becomes a distant memory to you both.

After that, you do a big clear out and deciding the old toy is only taking up precious space. It’s best just to throw it out, it wasn’t any good anyway. SEO is boxed up and sent away, but that nostalgic feeling remains – and one day you will look back and regret ever giving it up.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Many believe SEO is difficult, provides little value or costs a tonne, but this just isn’t the case.

It takes some work, yes, but anything worth doing will take time and it really doesn’t have to cost much if you know what you’re doing. If you find it’s providing little value or appearing ineffective perhaps something isn’t quite right and you need a bit of extra guidance.

Below I’m going to dispel three common myths that are hindering your SEO, to start you on your way.
  1. Many believe they can just stuff numerous tags and keywords and that will make their SEO effective because more really is more right? Wrong!
  2. The same ‘more is more’ idea is also being applied to link. Companies are continually linking to other sites and their own but not thinking about the quality of these links. For instance some blogger on page 2 of Google is unlikely to provide the quality link you need. Equally, if you’re linking an ‘SEO’ story to a story about your favourite recipe this is not going to do much more than annoy users – keep it relevant, keep it factual and keep it quality. But also, keep it in the text – don’t just add in random links wherever you want – figure out a way to keep the text flowing and hyperlink in the text. Don’t break your flow just to put in a link, it won’t be recognised as important or relevant.
  3. Just create content and, if SEO is good, it will all be a success. That’s just not true – you need to know your audience otherwise the content will be unappealing and quickly people will be turned off. If people are turned off, guess what? Google will be too.

If you’re still in doubt over SEO, or would like more information, there’s going to be a great, free event in Guildford, Thursday 7th July, where top SEO expert, Simon Schneiders, will shed light on SEO and how property company, Zoopla, went from zero to £1 million in just seven years with SEO.

Full disclosure: DigitalSurrey is a subsidiary of theblueballroom – an internal communications agency I work for. However, I am under no obligation to promote this event outside of work or across my own channels and am not paid to do so. This blog has been written of my own accord and with no payment, bribe, cohesion or request.

Is it time businesses start considering pet bereavement leave?

Employers often provide bereavement leave for staff if they have lost a family member. But, what if that family member is a cat, dog, or hamster even?

It still remains to be the case that the loss of an animal is not considered to justify leave. Yet, the death of a beloved pet can be a huge loss to the owner, and in many cases, illicit a grief similar to the loss of a person.

Many employees do not have the courage to ask for leave while they cope with their loss and employers do not think to offer it. But, according to research, this could be detrimental to well-being and engagement, as well as productivity.

A study from the University of Hawaii found that of the 106 pet owners interviewed, 30 percent reported grief that lasted six months or longer. 12 percent reported severe grief that resulted in major life disruption.

Furthermore, many owners report feeling a loss of their childhood or their children’s childhood, because as many of us know, a pet is a strong presence growing up. On top of all this, psychologists state that we see our pets as self-objects, meaning we imagine they have our own traits. We think we understand their feelings and they understand ours, making the loss feel deeper and more personal than many would expect.

I believe an employee who has not had the time to process their loss is likely to be unfocused and distracted at work. This can lead to mistakes, a reduction in productivity, and a less engaged employee. Additionally, the stress of loss can lead to actual sickness causing them to take sick leave, whilst parents may find they have to take time off to care for their grieving child. This can mean taking time out of their own holiday leave or taking the day unpaid, which inevitably results in stress and further upset.

The business case for employee engagement and a focus on well-being has long been established. A happy worker is a productive, loyal and motivated one. Employees carrying on under the weight of loss is not likely to produce these results. Furthermore, perhaps by offering this leave you could find candidates are more attracted to the company as a caring one, with such traits becoming increasingly desired among workers. It could also help retain employees by proving to them that you care about their lives outside of work, keeping their well-being at the heart of the business.

I can understand why many are unsure about introducing pet bereavement leave – for instance, it can be hard to know where to draw the line or how severe the grief must be. But, with many companies beginning to introduce PBL and proving it can be a success, is it time more companies start considering pet bereavement leave?

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Are managers becoming the company scapegoat

A phrase I have repeatedly heard in the internal comms and employee engagement arena recently is ‘People leave managers, not companies.’

When I first heard it I did think it was a striking statement, encouraging managers to be more effective and to encourage companies to create better managers, which is where it does have merit. However, the more I’ve heard it, and the more I’ve heard the contexts in which it is now being used, the more I have become adverse to this statement.

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In recent years, it seems people are putting more and more responsibilities on managers. In the beginning managers were accountable for ensuring employees were fulfilling their duties, understood their roles and were there to resolve workplace issues.

However, this has now increased to include a strong emphasis on employee engagement, health and well-being such as ensuring a work-life balance, and HR responsibilities such as feuds between colleagues. If any of these things appears to be faltering many are now quick to blame the manager, when perhaps the issue is far more deep-seated, and where perhaps stress put upon the manager is setting up a failure or mistake.

In my opinion, the statement is also far too sweeping and makes it easy to find a scape goat. Each employee is different and reasons for leaving a workplace therefore differ too.

For instance, there are many reasons out of a manager’s control, such as not enjoying the sector/job. I have known many people who thought their dream was in a particular field but after getting their ‘dream job’ they quickly realised it wasn’t what they wanted, so they left.

Another factor for employees leaving is career progression, in some roles you have fulfilled all that you can and you need to move on. Example – small companies where progression into other roles is unlikely or, a very common reason, it was always a stepping stone. I have done much retail work in my life, with myself and my manager knowing full-well that I wouldn’t be there long. Retail was not my passion, there’s nothing they could do about that.

Another, unfortunately, common reason for employees leaving, which cannot always be controlled by managers, is an employee not getting along with a team member. Occasionally, people clash and as much as you can attempt to help them get along and, where possible prevent them crossing paths, the outcome can be that one member of staff decides to leave. It is an unfortunate circumstance, but it does happen.

These are just some of the things that, on reflection, can be out of a manager’s control, or perhaps should not be in their remit to begin with. I strongly believe that the happiness of staff is not down to a single person but each individual in the team and each factor of the role. I have had many instances where my manager has been incredible and I have had the utmost respect for their work and their methods, but yet I have left and I would hate to think the blame ever landed on their desk.

In one particular role, it was the conflicting pay compared to product price, the fact I had to pay four times a year for my own uniform – which meant giving the majority of my paycheck each season back to the company – and the very high store manager turnover, that meant I left. In such a case it was certainly the company that I left, my manager however was brilliant.

I can see where people are coming from, managers play a huge role in the fulfilment of their employees but it is unfair to use this statement to explain each leaver and to take the weight off other factors, which without addressing could lead to higher staff turnover.

The sun’s shining, engagement is rising

We have been loving the nicer weather this week. The sun shining through our office windows, and the radiators being switched to off, we women have broken out the sandals and the men are rocking casual shorts. There’s something about the brighter days and warm sunshine that just makes life better.

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photo credit to soulrevivalreflexology.co.uk

But it turns out that the benefits of the sun on workers is more than just a happier mood (and laid back clothing). Studies reveal that employees are more productive and are less likely to suffer from health problems.

Considering sick leave costs the UK £29billion per year, improved health can only be a good thing for businesses and employees alike.

It’s also been suggested that employees are more willing to go in to work in the first place, can be more focused and aware, and work faster to complete deadlines. It seems much of this research also suggests a lack of overall negative effect on workers, indicating that the sun enables workers to be more productive but continue to also feel more awake, rather than suffering from an increased risk of burn-out.

It’s important that managers take this opportunity to encourage workers to take their lunch breaks away from the office and make the most of the weather. I know, I for one, have been making the most of it, spending my lunch breaks absorbing the sun while it lasts, after all it is England!

But just remember the sun cream, otherwise it won’t be burn-out but rather sun-burn that’s effecting employees.

Millennials are ruining the workplace

I’ve read an awful lot of ‘Millennial bashing’ in my time, however over the last week I’ve seen some pretty malicious news stories arguing Millennials are ruining the sanctity of our workplaces. I mean, take this quote from Marketing Week for example;

“Millennials have become a somewhat maligned generation, characterised by their individualistic nature (me, me, me), the value they place on material things and their lack of desire to work for them (see research).”

Research, much like that cited by Marketing Week, does not, in fact, suggest that Millennials have a lack of desire to work, far from it.

In recent years, the focus of our workforce has shifted towards a better work-life balance, which research links to increased employee engagement, productivity and business success. And whilst this shift is being put down to the rising Millennial workforce, I don’t believe they are to be ‘blamed’, because I don’t believe they are the only ones driving this change, and nor do I believe it’s a negative move.

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With the rise in mental health awareness campaigns and the increase in reported stress at work and families disrupted by long working hours, it seems this shift reflects that, as a society, we are attempting to find a better balance. A way to manage both our work and personal lives in a mutually beneficial way.

Our work patterns have been challenged by many (see Mental Health Foundation and Time to Change) to be causing an increase in health issues and yet, the Millennial workforce is calling for change, ‘expecting’ flexible working (as one feature put it), and this is deemed as an unwillingness to work.

Personally, my ‘expectation’ for flexible working comes not from a place of laziness but from the hope of a better life, both personally and professionally.

Flexible working has been introduced to ensure that our workforce can maintain their required hours, but also maintain their mental health, their personal commitments and to ensure their lives revolve around more than working, which many of us would struggle to do working a typical 9-5. Particularly as the age of retirement only seems to be going up, it’s more important than ever that we are able to live healthy, happy lives, both in and out of work.

Interestingly as well, quotes much like the one from Marketing Week suggest Millennials are self-centred, which again, is quite contrary to research, which actually indicates that Millennials are most driven to work for companies aiming to better the world.

No one likes the idea of change but, before you write Millennials off as ‘ruining our workplace’, perhaps try ‘improving’ first, and see what good might happen. After all, it won’t be long before they’re running them.

If you liked this blog, read another story relating to Millennials here.

Businesses back sleeping on the job

Employee well-being is a huge area, with so many different aspects to be considered. After all, each person is different and thus so are their lives and therefore their needs.

So it’s unsurprising that every week there seems to be a new concern in the workplace, debating whether employees are truly being appreciated and their well-being cared for. For instance a few weeks ago we were arguing whether tattoos should be more accepted in the workplace.

The hot topic of this week seems to be sleep, or rather the lack of it.

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From CEOs paying their employees bonuses for getting their seven hours a night, to companies encouraging their employees to nap at work, getting in enough Zs is currently a big well-being worry.

But, this is where I feel conflicted. Yes, sleep is super important, it’s a time for our memory to take stock, so we can remember all those clients’ names and faces, the things we need to do tomorrow, and that really great idea you had in the shower. And it’s also a time for healing, for our bodies to do a little rejuvenation. In fact, seven hours of sleep each night can reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease and breast cancer.

But, how stressed out would you feel if someone said you weren’t getting enough sleep so therefore your chances of gaining weight and dying young were higher? And how about if they said you’d miss out on a £350 a year bonus if you didn’t change?

As someone who has struggled to get enough sleep each night since birth I find the idea of being pressured and bribed into sleeping a really worrying prospect. The only good way to sleep is to be able to completely switch off and relax, people can’t be bought into sleeping more, can they?

Actually, a recent study would argue that you can’t, finding that work stress is causing our poor sleeping habits. So, if you really want to increase your employees sleep and their well-being perhaps we need to think about how to tackle their workload and stress first.

I worry that, if companies are opting for cash incentives or worse, scare tactics, to get their employees to sleep more – it could have the opposite effect. I totally get why they’re so concerned, sleeping more will improve health and therefore reduce the cost of absence, which stands at around £29billion per year in the UK, and can also increase employees’ focus and well-being, so it’s a win-win. But, when thinking about trying to help increase employee sleep, I would say that worry isn’t the emotion you want to evoke.

April Fools is no joke for corporate PR

April Fools can be a source of great PR, showing your brand to be unique, playful and interesting. Companies such as Virgin, Churchill and Google are consistent players each year, with increasingly ridiculous pranks, each aligned with their brand and just believable enough to hook customers.

But, the important thing, as Google discovered today, is knowing where the line is and how to tickle your customers, not tick them off.

Many seem so intent on finding a joke they forget that, if positioned incorrectly, it can be detrimental to brand image. The joke must be thought out; aligned to the brand and the customers, it must work (looking at you Google), and it must be light-hearted, no one wants a joke that’s over the top or in bad taste. If it isn’t all those things then it’s better for a brand to just give it a miss.

Another brand that got it wrong today comes from that app that keeps dragging up your past, TimeHop, who today ‘tricked’ users by updating them on their future self. Whilst it was a clever twist on their usual service, what wasn’t clever was its implementation. The problem was that I thought it was some horrible new update sharing predictions of social media in the future. It also wasn’t at all personalised so many of my ‘future self’s statuses’ were not even close to things I’d say. And, the biggest flaw, I actually didn’t get that it was supposed to be tricking me because it so obviously wasn’t real. A huge fail by the throwback app in my opinion.

Of course, if done right, April Fools can have a great pay off. Here’s a list of my top 5 personal favourite April Fools jokes by brands.

Churchill’s ‘Éau Yes’

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I like this just because of the play on words, and it seems every person and their dog are releasing fragrances, so why not this dog? The fragrance even came with added smell insurance, promising to give you compliments if the fragrance failed to attract compliments from others.

Tesco’s bouncy aisles
I desperately wanted this to be true last year. Being a short person I know the pain of products on high shelves. What made this joke though is that they did acknowledge this was a problem but also conveyed how difficult it would be to solve. After all, trampolines down small aisles aren’t exactly easily approved health and safety wise.

British Milk Council – “Unicorn milk”

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The thing with this one is that they did take the advice of ‘if you can’t then don’t’ but yet still found a way to engage and make people laugh. The sarcasm and cynicism of the message puts a spin on the usual silliness and gives it that dry British edge. It also represents how predictable brands doing April Fools is now and the, almost forced, nature as a result. It worked brilliantly and has already seen them feature in lists for great April Fools responses.

Domino’s Edibox
Again, I think I liked this one because I wished it was real but also because it totally seems like something they’d do. After all, they really did put hot dogs into pizza crusts so why not edible boxes?

Microsoft Office: Return of ‘Clippy’
Many of us remember Clippy with a mix of infamy and nostalgia and that’s why the return of Clippy was so funny. People wanted it to happen but also remembered quickly how incredibly irritating he was. Perfectly aligned with the brand and spot on humour for the day.