3 May, 2017, we boarded a flight at the Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai, for Singapore. It was a delayed flight and we were quite asleep when we buckled in to our seats for the take off.


Singapore – its something else!


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For a Few Westerns More

I am a big fan of the Western genre. I have read a lot of Westerns in my time and I have also seen a lot of movies.
If I were to list my top 3 all time favourite Westerns then they would be “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, “Django”, and “For A Few Dollars More”. Because they were the ones that had the most impact on me, and they were in my book, the true classic Westerns. Of course, this list could very easily extend to 10, 20, maybe more depending on how many Clint Eastwood made – because in my book, Western equaled Clint Eastwood, irrespective of what everyone else may say. Of course, in time I did watch the older classics and the newer ones, but it didn’t change my mind about The Man With No Name.

And further, to qualify as a Western in my book, there had to be rough characters, dust, a lot of dust, boots with wicked looking spurs, and stretches of desert, a harsh land, harsh towns, with harsh characters. Anything with locales that featured mountains, snow, or well dressed and clean cut characters were not Westerns. So said I.
The classic shoot-out scenes were the ones I always waited for – and no one could do it better than Sergio Leone, the spaghetti westerns of his defined those scenes. In all of his movies (the ones I have seen), each one was a classic, the Dollar series had them towards the end and “Once Upon A Time In The West” had one right at the beginning. No one did it better than him. The extreme close-up of the eyes, the slow build up accompanied by the music (esp in the Good,Bad, Ugly one), the tension building in the eyes, the draw and fire, and one man left standing.
The string of Westerns that came after with Clint Eastwood featuring in them were extremely good, but the ones that left the most impact on an impressionable mind were most certainly the ones mentioned at the beginning.

But then somewhere along the way, the genre itself began to fade and the films began to die out, making very rare appearances. But by then it did not matter as I guess I was past that age and to be honest, it was some time before I noticed that those good old Westerns were just not being made any more. Today, I will still watch the odd one that does make its way onto the circuit, but will it still thrill me as much? Not likely.

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Saving Facebook posts offline – Why is this Important?

Chances are that you have many friends on Facebook. Chances are that this results in many more posts appearing in your newsfeed. Chances are that this also results in many “lost” posts – posts that you either miss altogether, or those that you try to find later by scrolling through your newsfeed and only see a “There are no more posts to show right now” message. Chances are that at such times you wring your hands in desperation and wish there was a way to save all those wonderful posts that your friends had put up. You would have been able to keep all those wonderful ‘nuggets’ of information then.

Then there’s all that other wonderful stuff that is available on facebook. From all the Fan Pages that you follow. People. Companies. Governments. They all put up so much of information on Facebook! Wouldn’t it be great if you as a Facebook user could save important posts offline? Create “Digital Diaries” or “Collections” that you could categorize by subject and share with others right away or at a later date?
So who would benefit from this?

Think of individuals who have varied interests. They could save posts around their interests and share these collections with their friends at any time. They could also keep them for future reference – much as one would a music or movie collection at home. What about Companies that need to communicate with customers and prospects about new products, services and support? Companies put up valuable information about themselves and their products on their fan pages – they could encourage their customers and fans to save important posts for future use and sharing with others. Professionals that need to remain updated with latest issues related to their professions would definitely see great value in saving important posts for future use and sharing with their clients. Governments that need to communicate with citizens on various subjects like Laws, Safety, Education, Health, Environment etc…(an endless list in itself!). They could encourage citizens to save important posts for future use and sharing with others.

There is enough reason and more to save facebook posts. This somehow seems to be a missing piece in the entire facebook story. A missing piece that needs to be addressed to allow all its users to find increased benefits from the mine of information that is being created and shared by the more than 500 million users on facebook today!

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The SOX Challenge

Sometime earlier in this decade there were some financial irregularities that resulted in some major upheavals in the corporate world. Some organizations went down while others had to realign. What came out of the irregularities in financial reporting was a Compliance Act passed by the US Govt. This came to be known as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. What this essentially requires is that any company listed on the US stock exchanges has to necessarily submit to an audit and the management of the company and the auditors have to independently attest to the fact that the company has sufficient internal control over financial reporting. This means that the necessary processes and procedures and systems are in place that will prevent any unauthorized intentional or unintentional tampering of any financial data that will be used for reporting. It necessitates that all manual processes have to be automated and that the systems have sufficient security and controls built in to allow secure use of the systems which can be audited independently. The two main aspects are Change Management and Access Control.

After obtaining a thorough understanding of what constitutes effective Internal Controls, an evaluation process has to be followed that will identify financial reporting risks and Controls that will address them and reporting on the overall effectiveness of the existing controls along with the deficiencies identified. Based on this conclusion a remediation process needs to be initiated which will address the deficiencies and put the required controls in place.

Any change to any system, be it a new deployment or an enhancement or maintenance to an existing system, has to be authorized and follow a proper change management procedure as laid down in the change management policy of the company. This should ensure that all change is authorized, managed and tracked to completion.

Access control should exist to ensure that only authorized personnel are allowed access to systems that are critical to the functioning of the business and which have a direct impact on financial reporting. There should be a documented access control policy which should be implemented across the organization without any exceptions.

Information security is of paramount importance and should ensure that no data is allowed to be tampered with. All access to data should be controlled as well as proper backups and archival of critical data. All business critical systems should be secured against unauthorized access.

A critical part of SOX is the periodic internal audits and reviews that need to be carried out of the critical operations and systems that directly impact all financial reporting. These audits and reviews should detect any unauthorized or suspicious activity, errors or other attempts at compromising system security and immediate remedial action needs to be taken. The findings of the review as well as the action taken should be documented.

Reviews and documentation plays a vital role in a sox compliance initiative. If there are no reviews and there is no documentation supporting any of the required activities then that is considered a violation of the sox compliance. It is absolutely essential that periodic log reviews and reviews of user activity and system activity is carried out and the findings as well as the action taken be documented for submission to the auditors.

Policies and procedures need to be documented and implemented as per the documentation. If there is any deviation, it should be documented. If there are any exceptions they need to be documented. All deviations and exceptions need to be documented and authorized by the proper authorities.

The biggest challenge of implementing SOX in any organization is not the setting up of, or documenting any of the processes or procedures, or the implementation of the systems themselves or the access control and change management processes around them. The greatest challenge in the implementation of sox 404 guidelines is in ensuring that the policies and procedures are followed throughout the organization on an ongoing basis. This to me appears to be the greatest challenge of a SOX implementation. The organization has to follow the policies and procedures and use the systems put in place and move away from manual procedures. This is something that needs top management involvement. There has to be a clear top management initiative in driving this downwards through the organization. Unless this happens, SOX compliance cannot be maintained.

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The Digital Landscape: Then, Now and forever…

If you stood up on the top of a mountain and looked out over the vast digital landscape unfolding in front of you as far as the eye could see, you would see on the horizon, which is the furthest point the eye would be able to see, a stake in the ground proclaiming the beginnings of the basic internet. That year would be 1958. And the stake driven into the ground by ARPA, an agency set up by the Department of Defence of the Government of the United States of America. The agency had been formed to set up communications between the different divisions of the US Armed Forces. The communications network they set up was the basic internet.

If you then let your eye draw closer, zooming out, you would see at different stages the development of the first mouse, the first email system, the establishment of the TCP/IP protocol which today is the basic driver of the internet, the coining of the term www by Tim Berners-Lee, the launch of the Mosaic browser, the launch of the earliest search engines (Webcrawler and Lycos), and the appearance of the first banner ad and the first ecom transaction. You would have moved in from 1958 to 1994 at this stage. And you would think to yourself, that’s a heck of a long time they took to get all those rudimentary blocks in place. Of course, you would think that keeping in mind the speed at which things move today. But for that era, that was a good pace of development.

The next five years would see a flurry of activity with some of the rudimentary blocks acquiring more mainstream status and also serving as building blocks for newer products and business models. The period 1995 – 2000 saw the launch of, eBay, Craigslist, the Internet Explorer browser, RealAudio, Yahoo, Google, Pay for Performance Ads and of course the giddying heights that NASDAQ reached.

The peak didn’t last very long and soon the great dotcom bust happened that saw a lot of businesses biting the dust. Some were bigger companies, some were overnight sensations, some simply those with a wild idea in their minds and dollars in their eyes…. They all crumpled when the stocks on NASDAQ came tumbling down. Of course there were some who survived, and still soldier on today. And then there were those that were born when the dust cleared and things settled down. These were the new kids on the block, the mavericks who had ideas more outrageous and wackier than their predecessors. They came up with ideas and concepts that had not been seen before. From the chaos that had gone before came about Social Networks, Blogs, content sharing platforms and the concept of community and user-generated content. Web 2.0 loomed up larger than life over the digital landscape. And hundreds upon hundreds of new sites and platforms sprang up. This was the period that saw the coming of age of Wikipedia, iTunes, Technorati, Mozilla, MySpace, Google AdSense, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and on and on …..

Before coming on off down the mountain after surveying the digital landscape and timeline, we can for a moment, step back and take a moment to survey the eco-system that is the Internet. It’s easy to get caught up in the in-your-face buzz which is the World Wide Web with all its accompanying applications and solutions and equate it with the Internet. Which is what a lot of folks tend to think. If you were to consider the Internet , you would have to look at each of the components that go into making up this eco-system.

The core of the system would be the ISPs and the backbone networks which are the underlying data superhighways and highways and controlling stations. Then you would need to consider the hardware providers that contribute all the hardware that goes into making up the internet. The IT Consulting and Solutions companies and the Software Companies are also part of this family, as they provide the processes, know-how and the software that drives the internet. The Web Hosting, Caching and Content Delivery companies provide the platforms on which all the sites are hosted and made available to the consumers. The Search Engines and Portals and the Content sites provide all the content and the means to search and engage with it. The Software/Platform/Infrastructure as a Solution companies provide convenience for businesses looking for hassle-free ways of conducting their business on the internet. So too the Application Service Providers. The marketing pool is made up of the Ad Agencies, the Ad Networks, the email marketers, the Internet marketing agencies, the advertising and design and development agencies along with the e-commerce marketers and the B2B marketers. The eco-system seen in this light puts in perspective what we know as the Internet.

So what about all the people who traverse the vast interconnectedness of this vast digital landscape? The ones who breathe life into it, engage with it, provide the very reason for its existence? Who are they and where do they come from? And how many of them are there? Starting from a few thousands in the early days of the World Wide Web, their numbers today have swelled to close to 2 billion users worldwide. China leads the world with 360 million users, followed by the USA with 220 million, Japan clocking in third with 96 million, India coming in fourth with around 81 million users, Germany being fifth with 54 million. These are the top five countries in the world today, things could change tomorrow with the penetration and the dynamics of usage changing.

So what do all these people do? They come looking for information and access to knowledge sources, they come to be entertained, they come to transact online, and they come to communicate and build relationships and share with one another whatever makes sense to them. Getting more specific, they use it for email, both professional and personal, they search for anything and everything under the sun, they blog about just about anything they feel, think, do or hope to do, they comment on others work, their own work or without reason too, they post thoughts, feelings, words of wisdom, witty sayings, nonsense, and anything else they feel is worthwhile, they share photos, videos, music, references, links to information, they link to information, to others work, profiles, they upload photos, videos, music, news, stories, anything they see fit, they friend, they stream music, video etc. , they write on walls, they create and update profiles, they buy things, sell things, view things, read things, the list goes on and on.

Forrester Research has developed a Social Technographics model on user behaviour online. In a recent presentation, Understand Your Customers’ Social Behaviors – by Charelene Li and Jeremiah Owyang of the Altimeter Group, they revisited this model. They categorized users by the activity that they engage in online.

Users engaging in Curating are the ones who moderate or are heavily involved in online communities, for ex. Wikipedia, fan pages, or discussion boards; Invested in success of a product, service, or community, want to give back, or be recognized.

The ones who spend their time Producing create and publish their own content, websites, blogs, or podcasts. They want to express identity, own content, be heard, or be recognized.

The ones Commenting are the ones who respond to others’ content, comment on blogs or news stories, review or rate products; Actively participate, support, or contribute ideas/opinions

Those Sharing update status on social sites or Twitter, upload photos, videos, articles, etc; Want to share the information they have with peers, both to support others, and demonstrate knowledge

Then there are those who spend time Watching: These are the ones who visit social networking sites, read blogs, watch videos. They are the ones who seek social-created content to help with making decisions, learning from peers, or entertainment

All this is opening up new avenues for marketers to exploit. The marketing paradigm is being turned on its head. Marketing activity has evolved and will continue to evolve in ways never thought possible before. Given that the basic components of any marketing activity remain the same, it is the approach and execution that is undergoing change.

The basic marketing requirement of knowing who your customers are, which once relied totally on segmenting and targeting based on socio-demographics and relied on market research for insights in the pre-digital age, today is moving more and more towards segmenting and targeting based on consumers interests and affinities, and gaining insights in realtime.

Articulating what your brand offers and being clear about it in the pre-digital age meant one message for all consumers and situations with the advertising being created by Brand. Now theres more of different messages for different consumers and situations with the content being created by the brand as well as by the consumer.

Choosing how you would communicate about your brand was pretty much not much effort as it always was offline channels and a one-way push message. Today you have a choice of both offline and a variety of online channels with the communication being two way push and pull.

Never before has marketing had such close access to the consumer base. The possibilities that are thrown up now are mind-boggling. The accuracy with which you can now target consumers is something that was not possible in the pre-digital age.

And why is it changing? Very simply, because today you can do all of this. Today you can segment online consumers by the interests they have or the affinity they show towards subjects or communities, you can listen in on conversations, you can monitor what is happening in real-time and get insights real-time. You can have separate messages for separate user groups and ensure only they see the messages meant for them and in contexts specified by you. The content can be created by the consumers themselves as well as by you. And instead of broadcasting and shouting out your message at them you can choose to engage the consumers and stimulate conversation around your brand and leverage the relationships that exist on the net and rely on that to spread your message and awareness of your brand. All this can be done today because, well simply because it is possible today.

Are marketers today exploiting this situation. You bet they are. Internet marketing has grown at a dizzy rate and the ad revenues realized on the internet compared to other older media is close to incomparable. If you consider a figure of 20Billion USD in terms of advertising revenue, Newspapers took 127 years to achieve this, Radio 75 years, Broadcast TV 37 years, Cable TV 25 years and Online 13 years. That tells you something.

The annual spend on advertising online today stands around 25 Billion USD. According to the Annual Advertising and Marketing Study 2009, conducted by Outsell Inc, total Digital spends are poised to overtake print in the year 2010. Spends on advertising alone will climb to close to 60 Billion USD, but combining that with other investments in websites and services, the total figure will overtake spends on print.

The advertising scenario in India on the other hand is still a small fraction of the overall ad spend. TV is the largest chunk with around 52%, followed by print at 27%, with the Internet making up around 5%. These are figures reported by Webchutney and Juxt Consulting in their annual report Digital Media Outlook 2009: A Study of the Indian Digital Marketing Scenario. The report further goes on to give a breakdown of the areas of online spending that this money is spent on. The development and maintenance of websites accounts for 30% of this spend. Ad Networks / Search advertising receive 17%, followed by 16% being spent on display and banner advertising, Social Media taking up 15%, email marketing 14%, Viral advertising 6% and Mobile Internet advertising 2%. The low amount spent on online brand building could probably be attributed to the perception of the marketers. The report states that 50% of the marketers surveyed saw Lead Generation as the primary function of the internet. 30% saw it as being useful for brand building and creating awareness and 20% saw the usefulness of using it to engage the consumer.

So whats the playfield like? Where all these consumers are at play in the fields of the Lord – the Lord here being the consumers as a collective. The digital landscape offers tons of opportunity. Getting down to specifics and mentioning some of the leading players that make up this cosmic playfield:

Leading the way, the number one social networking site in the world – Facebook. With 400,000 million members (as of Feb 2010) and 12.4 million users in India. Facebook is a tremendously popular social networking site. Its massive reach provides compelling opportunities to connect with customers, both current and future, through fan pages, news feeds, groups, and throughout the site. Facebook is great for engaging people who like your brand, want to share their opinions, and participate in giveaways and competitions. Facebook Brand Pages are great for brand exposure. You could jump-start your brand exposure through the ad-platform, or hire digital media consultants to help you grow your brand presence.

Twitter, a micro-blogging platform, has quickly become a popular platform for consumers and advertisers alike. For brands looking to communicate with customers in real time, the micro-blogging service is a great way to carry on conversations in 140 or fewer characters. Twitter likes to call itself a “real-time information network”. It has 75 million users worldwide and 1.8 million users in India. This is a site where users share and discover whats happening right now. This is a platform that can be used for Customer Communication, it can be used for keyword search monitoring through a program such as Hootsuite, TwitJump or Radian 6 to track what people are saying about you and your competitors. In terms of Brand Exposure it Offers unique opportunities for website integration and engaging with customers in a viral way, helping your company stand out from the masses.

Digg is a social news site where users can discover and share content. Digg offers opportunities that are huge, especially for promoting objective press/blog coverage of your brand.. Another great advantage of Digg is in driving traffic to your site. Regarded as the grandfather of traffic spikes, Digg is a good place to become active in the community Its also very good for SEO because even if your story does not become popular, then your page will still be indexed quickly. If your story does become popular, this is likely the best site in terms of getting linked to by bloggers.

YouTube, a video sharing platform on which a well executed video with the right title and content, can have huge viral impacts for your brand, especially if your video reaches the most viewed pages. There are also numerous other ways to optimize your videos, but coming up with an interesting concept and being aware of title, tagging, and thumbnail image, need to be key components of your strategy. Whether you seek to entertain, inform, or both, video is a powerful channel for quickly engaging your customers, responding to complaints, and demonstrating your social media savvy. YouTube is one of the most powerful branding tools on the web when you build your channel, promote via high-traffic sites, and brand your videos.Its also very good for building links back to your site because videos rank high. Also a tried-and-true way for your brand to gain exposure.

Slideshare, a platform on which you can share presentations can be used for strategically tagged and titled SlideShare presentations that can serve as a good contact point with customers. Events and groups are also avenues that can be used for increased exposure on the SlideShare site.

So, now onwards on to …where? What direction is technology going to take? How will this impact the Internet? Marketing? Online Consumer behaviour? Engagement Models? Questions. Will have many answers. And points to debate over. Its going to be a long and rapid progress that we will see. And if you go up that mountain again and look out over the digital landscape that stretches into the future, you are going to be looking out over one that stretches forever.

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A Tweet does not a Community make…

So also, a Facebook fan page does not mean a social media strategy has been implemented.

But, these are just a few of the commonly misunderstood facts of the world of social media. What follows is a quick look at how some organizations and marketers get their equations all wrong around the concept of social media. This misunderstanding is what leads to a lot of players in the market believing that they are “with it” and have “got it” in terms of using social media in establishing a digital presence and spreading brand awareness.

Far from it.

They have, sadly to say, neither “got it” nor are “with it”. At best what they are really doing is using these channels as additional broadcast channels. Makes little sense considering that you already have far more established, much more effective and longer running channels for traditional broadcasting – adding a couple more online will merely add to the number of channels that are spewing out brand messages at people. If any of the online audience for some reason do not follow TV or print in any form, then they are the ones that would have benefit from receiving a brand message that they would have otherwise missed.

Its about Engagement.

The power of Social Media lies in providing platforms that will allow for the engagement of the various online communities in virally spreading your brand message, enable the creation of communities of brand loyalists, and leverage the power of online relationships that already exist across various social networks.
It is not an extension to TV, Radio or the print media that can be used as an additional channel to make announcements and broadcast messages. Sadly, that is what it ends up being used as, especially when those who have spent long years in traditional media step into the world of social media and make an attempt to incorporate it into their digital presence initiative.

What these enlightened folk do is sink in all effort into preparing a beautiful, flashy, dazzling brochure web site to which they will thoughtfully add on a couple of channels in an attempt to earn a claim to a “I’m Web 2.0 enabled and am completely social media savvy and am using it effectively in my overall marketing strategy” label. Part of this is true. The website and associated online broadcast channels will finally be a part of an overall marketing strategy. What is not true, however is that this makes them social media savvy and web 2.0 enabled as effectively and completely as they can be. This mainly happens as most learned folk do not understand Web 2.0 as a technology, or the ways of effectively using Social Media as an online marketing channel, or the power of leveraging online relationships in spreading brand awareness. So at the end of the day, what they end up doing is merely adding on additional channels for making announcements that will result in enhanced PR and nothing more.

Building a community is just the start. Engaging the community and leveraging the resulting relationships in these communities as well as in established social networks is the goal. There probably is no one way or any best way to do this. There are numerous best-practices and words of wisdom on methods and methodologies and choice of platforms for doing this floating around. What there is however a clear consensus on is the fact that engagement of your audience is paramount. And this is something that cannot be achieved by simply setting up a Twitter channel or a Facebook fan page and making sporadic/continuous announcements about your brand. Yeah, ok you have a great new PR channel, but that’s it.

So, then what is it really all about and how do you go about it?

As with any strategy implementation, you have to have a strategy framework and build a plan based on that. What this framework will streamline and help identify for you are the objectives of your exercise, who your target group is going to be and zero in on the channels that you need to use to implement your strategy.

Here is a presentation which attempts to capture the essence of a social media strategy framework and implementation. You will start out with identifying the people that you need to engage with. There is a very good Social Technographics profile that has been defined by Forrester Research which will help with identifying who should be your audience.What is social media? The company’s objectives need to be clearly identified so that you know what it is that you are trying to plan for. The strategy follows on from there once you have identified the audience and the company’s objectives. The strategy will comprise of what channels you will use and the manner in which they will be used in implementing your strategy. Finally, the technology identification will complete the picture in helping select what tools and platforms you will use to implement your identified social channels.
Again, there are many approach papers, methodologies and strategy implementation case studies floating out there on the world wide web. They would not have any commonly accepted way of doing things. But, like I said before, they all agree on one thing – you need to engage to succeed.

Here is an example presentation on formulating and implementing a Digital and New Media strategy using web 2.0 tools.
So have you come across any situations where you have had to deal with this kind of a scenario? It would be interesting to discuss and compare notes.

Please let me have your comments on this.

You could also vote on this by taking this poll.

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Search Engine Optimization: Technology

In the previous post we took a look at the analysis phase of the search engine optimization cycle. In this post we will take a look at the guidelines that need to be complied with from a technology perspective.

Doing this will involve considering the designing of the site architecture – the technical Issues, keyword selection, and search spider control, Programming Guidelines that will include the use of HTML tags, Page Issues, and Search Engine Robots and the factors to consider while choosing a Content Management System.

Designing proper site architecture is very important from an SEO perspective. This is important because it comprises of some key elements that impact SEO. Structuring of categories where content is laid out in proper taxonomy which allows both the users and the spiders easy navigability, plays an important role in improving the value of a site. Topic relevance is very important and search engine algorithms exist that determine the degree of relevancy of a topic to the targeted keywords.

The selection of the keywords and the content on the site have to be arrived at after careful consideration as these play an important role in determining the rank of a site. Another factor to be carefully considered is the levels to which content is nested, meaning how many clicks does a user have to go through to get to the content he or she is looking for.

A deep architecture means the search engines are unlikely to crawl more than 3 levels. So although having a deep architecture allows better categorization and finer selection, it is always a good idea not to go in too deep in terms of the levels for the site. Keeping the maximum number of levels or clicks to an optimum number will ensure that you can both categorize the site and allow for proper crawling by the spiders which will eventually end up adding to the ranking of the site.

At the core of any architectural consideration should be the level of accessibility of the site by the search engine spiders. If there are obstacles in the path of the spiders then this will prevent the spiders from crawling the site and navigating the links which will eventually impact the pages that can be indexed by the search engines. The structure of the URLs is important. Spiders like static simple urls. If they are dynamic then clean urls with no more than 2 parameters are best favoured by the spiders.

If the site uses frames, flash, audio, video then special care has to be taken to ensure that there are alternate arrangements that have been made to ensure that the content is made available in some form or the other which can be made known to the spiders to help with determining the relevance of the site. Similarly with the use of AJAX and Javascript. Pages that are called through the use of javascript cannot be crawled by spiders and there has to be an alternate text link to the same content to allow the spiders to find the content.

With regards to the keywords that are to be targeted for the site, the selection of the keywords themselves while being the decision made more by the marketing division, the placement and embedding of the keywords on the site is something that needs to be done by the programmers.

There are some specific guidelines regarding the placement of keywords on the site. Keywords can and should be placed in the title tags, in the meta description tags, in the header tags and in the document text itself. You should make sure you do not overpopulate with the keywords as that would get labelled as spam.

The use of tags and html code plays an important part in SEO. The Web Developers SEO cheat-sheet is a neat and concise gudeline sheet which can be of great help.

The HTML tags that are important from an SEO standpoint are the Title tag, the H1, H2, H3 … tags, Bold, Strong, the alt-tags, the hyperlinks.

There are times when you do not want certain areas of your site being crawled by the spiders and certain areas that you would not want your users to see but which should be found by the spiders. This is known as restricting spider access and cloaking and segmenting content delivery.

You need to avoid duplication of content, meaning setting up multiple pages with the same content. This will lead to the wrong pages being considered as the original page – spiders would then pick one they think is the relevant one and discard the rest. If there are multiple pages (old pages, updated urls etc.) then proper use of redirects should be made to a single canonical page that will be the page that needs to be considered.
When you set up your site ensure that you have a sitemap available which will allow the spiders to easily navigate your site. Submission of sitemaps to search engines helps.

The number of active links on any given page also needs to be within a given limit as the spiders will not follow any links above that number.

Another technology consideration while doing SEO is in the choice of the CMS that you use to build and maintain your site. There are guidelines to the factors that need to be considered while choosing the CMS. These factors include examining how the CMS handles Title Tag Customization & Rules, Static, Keyword-Rich URLs, Meta Tag Customization, the enabling of custom HTML Tags, customization of the internal anchor Text , flexibility in configuration and Intelligent Categorization Structure , Pagination Controls and the 301-Redirect functionality. There is a very good blog post Choosing the Right CMS for your website (from an SEO perspective) which talks about these factors in detail.

Previous: Search Engine Optimization: The Analysis Phase

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Search Engine Optimization: The Analysis Phase

The previous post, Search Engine Optimization: An Introduction, offered a quick overview of what SEO is all about and why we would want to go about doing it.

The different phases of a recommended SEO Strategy are Analysis of the environment and technology, Implementation and Maintenance.

In this post we will take a look at the Analysis phase.

The Analysis phase includes Keyword Research, Page and Site Analysis, Ranking Analysis and Link Analysis.

Keyword Research is the core of the Analysis phase. A good amount of brainstorming and research should be done during this stage. During the keyword identification stage, those words need to be identified that will allow your site to be ranked highly in the search engines. These should be the words that the organization feels are going to be what users are most likely to search for when the intent is to find information that is available on the website. This stage essentially should result in a list of keywords (combination of 1, 2 and 3 words) that would establish relevance of the site to the intent of the search.This is one of the main elements that gives the page strength and makes it “friendly” to the search engine spiders. Who should ideally be doing this? The people in the organization who are responsible for marketing. This is not a call that the IT department can make. What the keywords are should be decided mainly by the marketing folks. Where on the page and site these words need to be placed is what the programmers or IT department will decide.

An analysis of target terms involves analysing the content of any given page and extracting those terms that appear to be targeted at search engines. Using a tool like Target Terms will give you valuable insight about what words the search engines may find relevant on your webpage. This will allow you to decide if your site has the right mix of words that you have thought to be relevant to the content of your site. This will allow you to decide on the changes that need to be made of the keywords that are contained in your site. That is why it is important to identify the most prominently employed words and phrases on the site.

Another type of analysis involving keywords is the Keyword Difficulty analysis. This helps you determine if the words that you have narrowed down on and feel should be the words most relevant to the content on your site can be easily ranked highly in the search engines. This is essentially an analysis of the competitive landscape of a particular keyword, providing a percentage score and a detailed analysis of the top ranking sites at Google and Yahoo.
After carrying out a detailed analysis on the keywords, the next thing to do is to carry out a Page and Site analysis to determine how accessible is the site and the various pages to the major search engines.

The Crawl Test will help determine the accessibility of the site to search engines and provide an overview of the site’s search friendliness. It gives you an idea of the extent of indexing in the major search engines and will give you a detailed report on on http status code, primary keywords on the page, meta description, and the number of internal links on each page.

The Page Strength tool can be used to measure the number of sites/pages that link to your site. It will measure the number of times your brand is mentioned on the web. Using this tool you can run a competitive analysis to see which other sites in your field are doing well. It will allow you to monitor your progress over time.

A Competitive Analysis will give you an idea how the competitive sites are ranking for the same keywords that you have arrived at.

A Link Analysis helps in the identification of how many unique domains are linking to a page, subdomain, or to your entire website. This will allow you to analyze competitors to see what they are doing successfully. It will help you in the identifying the most important links pointing to a page as well as the anchor text used most frequently by those links

A Ranking Analysis will help you determine how your site ranks across various search engines. A tool like Tracking Rank can be used in the retrieval of search engine rankings for pages and keywords, tracking rankings in Google, Yahoo!, MSN/Bing over time and validating progress toward SEO goals.

In the next post we will take a look at the Technology considerations that affect the SEO process.

Previous Post: Search Engine Optimization: An Introduction

Next Post: Search Engine Optimization: Technology

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Search Engine Organization: An Introduction

With this post I am starting a five-part series on Search Engine Optimization.

The first part will be a basic primer and introduction to why we need Search Engine Optimization. This will talk about what search engine optimization is, the need for sites to be “search engine friendly, and an overview of the different stages that are involved in a Search Engine Optimization exercise.

The next few posts will deal in detail with the Analysis phase, the Implementation phase, the Tools that can be used, the Maintenance phase and a section on where you can find more resources on the subject.

To start things off – what is search engine optimization? The answer is simple – its making your site easy for search engines to find, crawl, index and give it a high enough rank so that when users search for content that is available on your site, your site is among the first ones that show up on the search engine results pages.

How do search engines find you? They send out spiders to find you. Your website should be “friendly” to the spiders that crawl the web so that they can find you easily and crawl your site without a problem. These bots go out all over the web and crawl websites they come across and follow links and then they take all that information and put it into a huge big database which becomes the search engine’s index. Now when other people come looking for something that you may be able to help them with, the search engine will look at the search query, look at the index, pick up links to all the sites that they think can answer this guy’s question and go ahead and show the user the entire list of links for him to choose from. All very fine when put that way. Not so fine when you consider that usually the number of sites that the search engines find that could be relevant to the search query could very easily run into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and that the results are displayed only a page at a time, and a page will contain only ten results at a time. That means if the search engine thinks that your site is not really all that relevant to what the user is looking for, it is very likely to place you in position 6 on page number 122,456. With that happening it is not very likely that you are going to be found by the person who is looking. To give you some perspective, a search for the word “seo” on google produced 186,000,000 results.

So if you are serious about life, the universe and being found on google’s search results pages in one of the top 10-20 positions, then you also need to get serious about SEO. Life, the Universe and SEO!

One of the first things you would need to do is get down to understanding why your site ranks where it does in the search engines. Heres the thing. Smart as the search engines may be, they still need to depend on the sites to help them effectively crawl them and determine how and where they should rank in the results page. So it makes sense that you do whatever is in your power to make it easier for them to do so.

There is of course the other reason why you should pay attention to your site and the way it is structured and put together. And that’s for your human readers. By now it should be clear that your site is being built to cater to two kinds of audiences – one the human kind, which comes along, finds your site, makes a judgemental decision on your site purely relying on their subjective impulses and decide whether it’s worth their attention or not, and the other – the spider, the bot, the messenger of the mighty search engines, that come crawling along and traverse the web navigating their way through sites, following links and building up their index and using complex algorithms to decide where exactly your page should rank for what query.

To allow for good “spiderability” your site needs to comply with guidelines and follow accepted standards that will ensure that it is search engine friendly.

Some of the things that you need to do to make this happen is to pay attention to Site Architecture, Technical Issues, Keyword selection, and following Programming Guidelines that include the use of HTML tags and standards to be followed while considering the designing and building of pages. Another important thing to be kept in mind is the factors that need to be considered while choosing a CMS for building and maintaining your website.

An approach to Search Engine Optimization involves the following stages: Analysis of the environment and the technology, Implementation of the recommendations from the analysis phase and the monitoring and maintenance phase for ongoing SEO.

The Analysis stage involves extensive keyword research to determine what are the likely keywords that users are going to be using to look for content that is available on your site. It will also analyze your site to see if the use of keywords and the site structure is good enough for spiders to crawl your site and for search engines to rank your site. Analysis basically is of two types – one is analysis of the site/page itself and the other is analysis of the links.

There are two factors that play a key role as far as search engines go – the relevance of your site, and the importance of your site.

These are the two main things that decide where your site ranks in the digital world according to the search engines. To arrive at this conclusion based around these two factors, search engines use close to two hundred rules (google does) which they use in their ranking process.
Relevance of your site is simply how relevant or close to the user’s keyword is the content contained in your site. This is decided by the search engine based on how you have structured your site and by the way you have written your content.

The importance of your site is decided by the external links that your site has. How many other sites have links on their pages that link to your site. The search engines determine that and then go on to determine the importance of the site that has linked to you. The importance of the sites linking to you plays an important role in determining the importance of your site, so its not simply the number of links that your site has from external sites. This in effect is a vote for your site by other sites out there on the web – so the more valuable votes your site gets, the more it climbs in value.

The analysis phase is where you analyze your site to determine in what state it currently is in terms of the search engines and how you could optimize it. You could also do a competitive analysis to see how your competitors are ranking in the search engines. The analysis is also a good time to find out what it is that they are doing right that allows them to rank better in the search engines.

The Technology phase is when you do an analysis of the technology that is powering your site. This is when you determine if the architecture that you have used is optimal, whether the code that you have on your site is “search engine friendly”, and what are the guidelines that you need to be following while programming. Another important part is evaluating your CMS (if you are using one) to see if it complies with the guidelines that allow for a search-friendly site to be built and maintained.

Once your analysis is done with regards to the environment and the technology, the next phase is the implementation of the optimization. This is done in two stages – the first is the on-page optimization, where the page/site itself if optimized, and the second is the off-site optimization, where the link-building strategies are implemented using a number of ways.

After implementation, there is an ongoing maintenance phase where the site has to be monitored and maintained to track the impact of the optimization that has been done.

In the next post we will be taking a more detailed look at the Analysis Phase of a SEO implementation.

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Mobile becomes a social media lifeline?

Approaching the end of 2009 and looking back on all the progress that social media has made, one would say that it has been on predictable lines. With nothing significantly and spectacularly different being thrown up. Social media has gained ground, a very good sign. We have seen it gaining ground in specific industry segments, an even better sign. I have had the opportunity of working on social media initiatives in some varying segments this year and the approach and the acceptance levels in each has been different and to say the least, a learning experience in itself. The one learning that I have come out with from all this during this one year is this. There are some that get it. And some dont. Well, here’s power to those who do, and a hope and a prayer for those who dont – hope you DO get it at the earliest!

In a recent post titled Six Social Media Trends for 2010, David Armano, founder of Dachis Group, an Austin based consultancy delivering social business design services, has some observations that are quite insightful.

The one which stood out apart from the others, is the one that talked about the mobile becoming a strong social media lifeline. With a lot of Corporates shunning social networking and clamping down on access to them by shutting off every port possible in their firewalls, the mobile is going to be a strong access point to the various networks. People, like Armano says, are going to be taking less of cigarette breaks, and more of mobile breaks.

A brief summary of his other predictions are:

– Corporations will look at scaling up their social network marketing efforts and make it a lot more strategic.

– Social networking companies will move much more heavily into entertainment.

– Companies will have well defined social media policies which might actually be enforced. Companies will look at formalizing its views on social media and rules of engagement for employees.

– Mobile becomes a social media lifeline. Forget the cigarette break at work. In 2010 you will be taking social media breaks.

– e-mail will be rapidly replaced as a means of sharing information. All forwards to friends and colleagues will now be done using networks such as facebook and Twitter.

– Social media begins to look less social.

Does all this mean there is a definite move towards it becoming a more acceptable means of formal communication and dialogue? I doubt that, but it definitely will become a lot stronger as a collaborative and brand communication platform.

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