Perfect page not found page (404)

We often see them when browsing the webpages. Usually more often that we would like to… 404 pages – page with more or less polite message explaining that page couldn’t be found. How should it look like, what should be its core elements. Here are some ideas and best practices.

First – such pages needs to very clearly state that page wasn’t found. You might be surprised to see that some popular website put this in fine print and make the page rather look like little site map. You can see such example on Microsoft site. Visitors need to be aware that this is not the page you were trying to find. Put this in big letters in header and in title of the page.

The page itself should be simple and clean. It should have only the most basic navigation elements.  Consider stripping your regular navigation from this page. The basic elements of the page should be:

  • link to homepage of your site
  • search box so people can search your site directly from this page
  • link to sitemap (provided you have one)
  • feedback to webmaster request – and make it sound like you really want to learn on what went wrong. Also – promise to follow up and actually do it!

You can also consider differentiating content of the page based on where visitor is coming from. You can easily check the referrer using JavaScript and then tailor the message to the specific situation. Here is what could happen:

  • visitor can come from popular search engine that has old link – then it’s just matter of days that search engine reindex the page and error should soon be gone
  • visitor can type in the url or bookmark it – than he/she needs to check the spelling and possible update the bookmark that is obsolete
  • visitor can be coming from within your site via internal link – apologize very sincerely, promise improvement and follow up afterwards
  • visitor can be coming via link from other external site – you should avoid finger-pointing but politely summarize what happened. If there are lots of such situation (you can see it in your metrics tool) – may be worth to follow up even outside…

google 404 pageWhen writing this I’ve doublechecked some of the most popular websites and was really surprised. First – not much of the best practices there. What’s more – many of the negative examples.

For some of them – e.g. youtube and blogger – I’ve noticed that there is not even custom 404 page there. Google has page that is very simple – it is very good in telling that page wasn’t found. However it also doesn’t have any single link that you could follow up – not even to Google homepage…

Clearly something that’s worth to address. Especially that 404 page is usually one of the top 20-50 most visited pages on every site. Sad but true! All comments are welcome!

Viral marketing – how to reach executive decision makers?

When we hear term viral marketing we often picture another clip that is so funny that everybody passes it to each other. Provided it contains marketing message (brand logo) – it’s viral campaign. And it can be indeed very successful. I’m sure most of you have already seen Berlitz ad about German coastguard (What are you sinking about?).

The problem starts when you enter B2B space. Also – if you want to target higher in the ranks – these busy managers and executives are less and less likely to pass on fun emails. Is it then at all possible to reach them with viral campaign?

Here is my idea. How about sponsoring valuable white paper or industry analysis and survey? If you are webmarketing agency and you sponsor good and complete survey analysing online market in all European countries – I will be happy to get it and I will pass it on to my colleagues and co-workers. Benefits are big:

  • you are sure you reach right target (provided you choose your study topic well)
  • customers are more open for your message – they got it recommended from their trusted sources (co-workers and colleagues)
  • well chosen topic of study can be call-to-action as well
  • you establish your company as expert in field

If you have good white paper and analysis of European online market – status and trends – pass it to me. All your comments are also welcome.

Viral ads – you need to protect yourself

Have you seen Chevy Tahoe viral campaign? It’s not very new but it’s perfect example to ilustrate one important aspect of viral marketing. Marketeers – protect yourself! Don’t trust your customers. It may not sound very good but is really must. Lets start with couple of words about Chevy campaign.

The idea was great. There was website with cool interface that allowed visitors to build ads for Chevy Tahoe. You had choice of nice scenes starring Chevy – it’s glamourous interiors, amazing features as well as muscular exterior – in beautiful landscapes, at seaside, in top mountains, in sunset and sundusk. Endless beauty! There was also rich choice of music to accompany these picturous scenes. All this could be combined with text of your choice to make another cool ad for cool car. What’s more – there was competition for nicest of such ads. The winner would see his ad shown on tv in prime time. Visitors could pass their creations to each other advertising the car and the campaign. Sounds like perfect way to promote good car. Right?

Wrong! Some customers used it to pass message on how crappy and polluting the car was. Combination of professional looking ads with beautiful landscapes and music with such negative messages created really fun ads. And then the viral effect really started – people passed to each other these funny and negative ads. You can see example of such ad here below:

I don’t know whether anyone was fired for this campaign but I’m sure it was very hard lesson for Chevy marketeers. Lets learn from this lesson to.

Bottomline is don’t trust customers. If you make campaign where people upload photos or movies so everyone else can see them. Make sure that someone looks at them prior to displaying on the site. If visitors can put text that they pass to the others – consider preparing choice of such texts instead of free form. All this may be discouraging for visitors so needs to ba balanced. But… Keep in mind Chevy Tahoe case.

Can viral marketing campaign really boost sales?

Can viral marketing campaign boost sales? If I would need to provide simple yes or no answer than my answer would be no. The biggest problem with most of viral campaign is how to balance viral effect with expected business results. You need to make message so attractive to the user that she would decide to pass it on to her colleagues ad co-workers. Internet users are bombarded with messages – to stand out they need to be very strong, fresh, often shocking or extreme.

People are also more eager to pass to friends if they don’t see them as advertising message. The less-advertising like the message is – the better chance for viral effect. In the chase of optimizing the message to get strongest viral effect marketeers often loose sight of objective of campaign.

It’s not that difficult to achieve strong viral effect. Consider following message: “I will give $50 to every single person that will contact me by email. You can contact me yourself, you can tell your friend about this offer.” Provided that you trust that message is real – I bet you will take offer and pass it to many of your colleagues. Perfect viral campaign – right? It depends on what do I want to achieve – if give away all my money than yes.

It’s the most difficult in B-to-B world, especially when the target are managers and executives. Even if the message is attractive, it may create interest from people that are not your prospect customers. Then – the interest and traffic created by campaign will be of very low quality and will not boost sales in any way.

Backup trauma instituteGood and quite rare example of balanced viral effect with effective embedded marketing message is campaign of LiveVault company. The Backup Trauma Institutecampaign that is starring John Cleese was discussed and presented often as marketing case study.

It’s done in Monty Python style that is often appealing to the target group of the LiveVault customers (IT managers, age 30-40). The movie which is core of the campaign is presenting in fun way the benefits of the LiveVault backup solutions. The marketing message and attractive movie is joined perfectly.

Even for this succesful campaign I bet that majority of the interest is coming from people that will never have interest in buying such solution (I know I’ll not buy myself). With this in mind it’s important to construct call to action right. Make sure that it’s appealing to the people that are your real target. It also needs to be easy to manage from your side for all the people that are not prospect customers. So – don’t ask everyone to call your call center as part of your campaign – you may have problems coping with load and customers that should call may not reach you.

More about other pitfalls of viral marketing coming soon. If you have good examples of viral campaigns – successful or unsuccessful ones that share similar traits – please share them. Your comments are very welcome.

Banner ads – advanced targeting idea

There are lots of opportunities for banner targeting and I don’t plan to catalogue them. I want to share with you ideas that I’ve found very useful and is often overlooked. It’s targeting at specific customer. Especially if you are working in enterprise market where you have limited number of key customers that can be highly effective.

Typical enterprise customers are seen as coming from single domain or range of IP addresses. Both are easy to target within ad server. Now – put yourself into shoes of employee of corporation. You would be nicelly surprised seeing ad that features your company imaginery and message that speaks very directly to you.

It can be holiday greetings (for Chistmass or Hanuka) or highly targeted promotion or special offer. Imagine you are coming to your bank or flight booking engine seeing such tailored message and offer. It can also create viral effect as the employees can be passing “See this!” messages to each others. Especially if you make it light, fun and appealing.

Do you have your own examples? ideas? feedback? Comments are welcome!