Monday, February 22, 2010

How Small Businesses and Enterprise Companies can use Foursquare

I've been a Foursquare user for about three months now. At first the idea of people knowing where I was (or not), was a bit unnerving. I guess the "dangers" of social location have been brought even more to light with the recent coverage about

Recently though, I've been thinking more about the business applications of Foursquare, not just for local businesses but also for larger/enterprise ones. First up though, here's a bit of background (most of you may already be familiar, but just in case):

What is Foursquare?
Foursquare is a location-based social networking application that is growing fast; US visits to Foursquare have rocketed by 50% in January compared to December alone (Experian Hitwise, 2010).

So what's it all about? You use the Foursquare app on your mobile phone to "Check-in" to different places - be it the gym, your work, your local grocers, an airport... basically anywhere. If Twitter answers the question "What are you doing?" then Foursquare answers "Where are you (doing it)?".

This information can also be linked to your Twitter and Facebook accounts to let the people in these networks know where you are. Or you can choose to limit this information just to your Foursquare network, should you not want to share this with your wider network.

To encourage use, there is also a gaming element to Foursquare. As you check-in to more/different places you earn "Badges". For example, on your first check-in you unlock a "Newbie" badge; and you unlock the "local" badge when you check-in to the same place three times in a week. Right now there are 32 badges that are available to unlock.

Example of Foursquare Badges

Last, but not least, if you happen to be the person that has the most check-in's to a particular location, then you earn the title of "Mayor" of that place. Of course you can be ousted as Mayor at any time, should someone else check in more times than you do. When this happens, you receive an Email to notify you of your ousting, and by whom. If you have Foursquare linked up to your Twitter account, then it will also send this out as a tweet.

When I explained Foursquare to someone recently, it sounded really dumb, but it's surprising how addictive and competitive it can get, especially as more people start to join up.

So What are the Business Applications of Foursquare?

Local Businesses and Stores
One of the main aims of Foursquare is to encourage people to explore their neighbourhoods. So it is quite easy to see how Foursquare can be used by local businesses, including:

Rewarding Mayorships
Do you remember in the 90's when loyalty cards first started to take off? Well, mayorships could be the new loyalty card in the making. There are many examples of businesses who are starting to use Foursquare to reward such loyalty, including Mio Gelato in Portland, where the mayor gets a free coffee and gelato scoop; and Dominos Pizza Huyton in Liverpool where the mayor gets free pizza. Nom nom.

Rewarding Mayorships: Domino's Pizza Example

Rewarding Check-ins
Local businesses can encourage people to keep coming back by also rewarding them for their check-ins. For example, a reward may be given for a first check-in to an establishment, or for multiple, returning check-ins (such as five check-in's in one month). It's a good way to encourage people to keep coming back, especially when the prospect of becoming the mayor of a popular place is a difficult title to achieve.

Using Location Information to Flag Special Offers
If a person checks-in to a place nearby your business, then Foursquare can flag "Nearby Special Offer" for your establishment. This is a great way to raise awareness of your presence, especially if you are a newer business that has just set up. It also helps to encourage people to come visit your store. As an example Boyds Coffee in Portland flags a special 15% discount when you check-in nearby with Foursquare.

Boyds Coffee Special Offer Example

Encouraging People to Write Tips
Another nice thing about Foursquare is that people can leave tips (which serve as recommendations) for different places they have visited. People in their network will be able to see these tips and can add them to their "To-Do" list. Encouraging people to leave tips on their experiences can be a good way of gathering positive reviews, particularly when users have a good number of local connections.

Enterprise Companies
When it comes to enterprise or B2B companies, the application of Foursquare becomes a little less obvious. Most of the ones I am aware of revolve around things like events, exhibitions and conferences. In fact, Foursquare has the potential to work very nicely where event marketing is concerned.

Rewarding Check-ins
Check-ins could be used to help encourage booth traffic. Use the geo-location feature to add your booth location as a place on Foursquare and then encourage people to check-in, for example, to get entered into a free drawing.

Special Offers
Another idea would be to offer a free giveaway to the first 20 check-ins at your booth. If people check-in to the conference center, or building in which the event is being hosted, then you can use the "Nearby Special Offer" feature to flag the special for your booth.

Develop Special Badges
Some companies have made good use of the gaming component of Foursquare to encourage people to check-in. For example, the CES Consumer Technology Trade Show developed their own special CES 2010 badge when visitors checked in to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Intel also designed their own badge for CES visitors who came to see them.

Large events like this are also good opportunities for people to unlock the Swarm badge (where 50+ people have checked in to the same venue).

Special Badges: CES 2010 and Intel at CES

Please feel free to share any other ideas or business applications you have seen for Foursquare.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Search is not a Silo

Search is not a silo. This was the core message at a Search Marketing Conference I attended last week, and provided plenty of food for thought.

Search engine marketing is a relatively new practice when comparing it to the more traditional marketing tools, like advertising and PR. Yet, it is still just one component within the overall promotional mix. So as search marketers it is important for us to take a holistic approach and integrate it within the entire marketing toolset.

"Search is the lead singer in a rock band. The other marketing channels are the instruments that support search" (Russ Mann, Covario, CEO)

This makes entire sense, and is necessary in order to take the benefits and efficiencies of search to the next level. However, this is not without challenges. Organizationally, it requires us to educate and work closely with our marketing counterparts to ensure the integration of search within marketing programs. Secondly, in order to show the real benefit of integrating search with other media, better attribution models are needed.

Right now, search holds a privileged position when it comes to attribution. Attribution is where credit is given (attributed) to the last action (often click) that the customer makes. Since search is often geared towards the end of the funnel, it tends to take the credit (more often than not); some may argue, over-credited at times. This is just the reality of how a lot of analytics systems are set up within companies.

The reality, of course, is that conversion does not just happen at one particular point in time, or generated by just one particular medium. Rather it is a journey where many different media can work together, and contribute, towards that last click prior to conversion. Therefore, better attribution models are needed in order to assign credit in multi-channel programs.

This is not an easy task due to the vast amount to data it can yield, not to mention the lack of technical expertise and in-house resources, to name a few. It is, however, an important piece of the puzzle we need to solve in order for us to:

- Fully garner the benefits of search across multiple channels
- Better understand the touch points leading to a conversion
- Make better marketing decisions moving forward

Thanks to @covario and all the presenters at the InflectionPoint '10 Conference last week (Twitter event hashtag: #ip10).

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Guide to Baidu Search Optimization

Baidu is China's biggest search engine, commanding an impressive 64% market share, compared to Google's 31%. And with China replacing the US as the world's single largest growing economy (Enquiro, 2007), it is definitely a force that cannot be ignored for global search engine marketers. Yet as I was researching SEO for Baidu, it became apparent that there wasn't a whole lot of information available, at least in English, on how to rank well naturally for it.

To follow, is a brief summary of what I was able to find so far, starting with the basics. I'll continue to add to this post as I find out more.

Use a .cn Domain
Baidu seems to favor websites which use a Chinese domain (.cn). This is understandable since Baidu is a Chinese search engine, for the Chinese people.

Use Chinese Language Content
In Baidu, very few searches are conducted in English. Therefore, it is important to translate your content into local language (ie: Simplified Chinese) in order to stand any chance of ranking well.

Avoid Certain Types of Content
Since content is controlled by the Chinese Government, Baidu is very sensitive to certain types of information. For example, adult content or other Government "forbidden keywords" are censored from search results. Using such words will not only negatively impact your pages, but potentially blacklist your entire web site.

Optimize on Page Content
Optimize your Heading, Anchor Text, Body Copy, and Meta Descriptions, just as you would for Google (see the HABIT SEO Checklist for tips). Unlike Google, Baidu continues to make use of Meta Keywords as a factor of rank, though it seems to be placing a little less emphasis on this recently.

Inbound Links
Where links are concerned, Baidu takes into account links from both external sources as well as links from within your own site. Quantity is more important than quality. More recently though, they seem to be following in the footsteps of Google and placing more emphasis on external links.

Keyword Research
When doing Keyword Research, Baidu has a Baidu Index tool that can provide you with estimate search numbers, similar to the Google Keyword Tool. The catch is that interface is in Simplified Chinese, but Google Translate can help non-speakers to some extent.

Additional Useful Resources
- Chinese Search Engine Engagement (Enquiro, 2007)
- 2009: A Battle Ground in Chinese Search (Digital East Asia, 2010)
- Google Says No to China (SearchEngine Land, 2010)

--- Update 15-Feb-2010 ---

Use a Chinese IP Address
Websites that are hosted in China are prefered by Baidu, and will significantly improve your rank.

Refresh Your Content
As with Google, keep your content fresh and updated, since Baidu favors newer content over old.

Aim for 6-12% Keyword Density
Keyword density is still seen as an important ranking factor by Baidu to determine page relevancy.

Keep Your Page Sizes Down
Due to poor connectivity, Baidu’s crawlers will often crawl only the first 100-120k of a page. So keep your page sizes down, with the most important content and keywords toward the top of the page.

Don't Forget About Alt Tags
Remember to use your keyword in the image alt tag. As with Google, Baidu also uses this information to determine the relevancy of a page.