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Cookie laws, new EU data protection directives and effective digital marketing – Interview with Noisy Little Monkey

The new cookie compliance legislation is due in May this year and the ICO has expressed concern that businesses are not as prepared as they should be – what do these new laws mean for the average UK business and how can they ensure they are prepared?

The cookie compliance law – more accurately known as the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 – is designed to ensure that visitors to websites can decide whether or not a website collects information about them. Most websites use cookies: this is a small file that is downloaded onto a PC or laptop when a user accesses a website which then sends information back to that site on subsequent visits. Probably the most commonly used cookie for the average UK business is Google Analytics, which simply counts visitors to websites and provides the website owner with stats about its use. Cookies are all over the web – from an ecommerce site that stores address and delivery details to speed up the checkout process to far less scrupulous uses. Google makes great use of cookies to personalise its search results and adverts based on, amongst other things, what you have searched for in the past and your location.

Under the new cookie compliance legislation businesses must tell users about the cookies on their website, what the cookie is doing, and – this is the new bit – gain consent to use that cookie. There are some exemptions, but the general rule is that businesses must actively seek consent. This has significant implications for both website owners and users of those sites which is why implementation has been controversial. Businesses (and indeed government) websites have been slow in facing up to changes as they have been hoping for a less clumsy solution to the very real privacy issue.

In short, we should all be making changes to our website before May to ensure compliance with the regulation. The ICO guidance is very helpful on what preparations are required.

The DMA has expressed concern about the EU’s new Data Protection Regulations in terms of the negative impact to the direct marketing industry. Do you have any similar concerns for digital marketing and communications?

If fully implemented, the change in legislation will make a significant difference. Few of us realise the extent to which our experience of the web is shaped by our search history, particularly adverts and search results. The traditional marketing industry uses market intelligence to sell us more stuff; the digital marketing industry uses online data and cookies in the same way. Without this data, then the user experience is bound to be affected.

Google is the single largest online supplier of search results and adverts – in 2011 Google made $37.9 billion in revenue of which 96% came from advertising. They have a vested interest in ensuring European legislation does not harm their revenue stream and have recently asked everyone with a Gmail or Google+ account to consent to revised terms of use. If Google has its way – and it has the influence to do so – then the impact may well be less than expected.

What are the main points to consider for effective website management?

Website management is important if you want your website to rank highly in search engines like Google. The way search engines work is to ‘crawl’ your website on a regular basis to see if the site is suitable to be shown in its search results. Part of the management task is to ensure the site is error free, loads quickly and efficiently and has suitable links between it and other websites – there are a number of tools you can use to check this.

Decent web hosting makes a significant difference to a site’s performance. It’s surprising how many businesses scrimp on hosting when their website is business critical, this is a false economy. We would recommend ‘optimising’ the site for search engines, so that search engines have sufficient information to understand your website and when it should show in search results. More generally Google wants users to find websites that are useful and provide a good user experience, which means a key management task is to ensure the site is accessible, easy to use and contains fresh relevant information.

What are your social media recommendations for 2012; B2B and B2C?

The single biggest recommendation for social media – for both B2B and B2C – is to be authentic. Partly this means being clear about your brand values and how they translate as a ‘tone of voice’ to an online audience. Being authentic as a business can be very different to being authentic as an individual so make sure that everyone using social media in your business is on-message, and then relax and let them get creative! Social media is designed to be an interactive medium (that’s the ‘social’ bit), but too many companies use it as just another channel to broadcast sales information. The point of it is to create a community that is receptive to you and you do that through conversation and interaction. This takes time and commitment – it’s not for every business.

Facebook and Twitter are probably the most popular social media used by businesses, but depending on your sector and type of work there are other options which may have a greater business benefit. For example we have started using Pinterest (pinterest.com) to create visual snapshots of our clients and their business sector as a way to inspire creative approaches to their digital marketing.

PPC, SEO? What’s the craic?

So many acronyms, so little time! Every industry has its jargon and digital marketing is no exception. There is so much of it that it’s easy to get blinded or indeed hoodwinked into parting with cash you don’t need to.

There are some great reference materials out there. We would always recommend SEOMoz for their beginners guide to SEO. Matt Cutts, the Head of Google’s Web Spam Team, does brilliant video questions and answers that are available on YouTube or Google Webmaster Helpfor more techie issues. For PPC (pay per click for those not in the know) you can’t beat Google’s own help materials. If you want the jargon decoded in a more human way, we’d love to help!

What digital trends would you identify for the coming year?

The digital trend of the moment is Google Search plus Your World. If you have yet to join Google+ you will notice there is a +You option at the top of the menu in Google search results which invites you to register. Google+ works on the idea of Circles – a more sophisticated version of Facebook friends – and the delivers search result based on what your circle of friends and acquaintances are searching for. It’s the next level of personalisation of search.

If you combine personalised search with the increased use of smart phones then you can see we will all be carrying around a ‘community’ of people, brands and interests that we can interact with from almost anywhere at any time. Eventually when you walk into your favourite store, you will receive notification of their deals of the day and what your friends bought. When you search for a restaurant or café you’ll see recommendations from people you know. Arguably we will be ever more connected. However, to go back to the changes to the cookie laws, it’s reassuring to know that Government is considering the long term privacy implications of this.

How far do you reckon the ‘Olympic effect’ will extend across the UK in terms of business?

Hopefully the wave of national joy brought about by an unprecedented number of gold medals won by Team GB will boost our national morale so the Olympics will affect all businesses in a very positive way!

Corporate conferences – cliquey, shameless excuses for days of work or important part of PR/sales/marketing strategy?

It depends on the corporate conference and the corporate culture of course. A day away from the routine, focusing on the future, setting out company and brand values, injecting some creativity and zest into the mundane and reflecting on the customer experience has to be important to any company that is serious about continuous improvement, customer service and their bottom line.

A cliquey, day off work? What kind of corporate conferences have you been to?!  

Tell us a joke…..

Why was six against seven? Because seven eight nine.

 

Noisy Little Monkey is a digital marketing collective specialising in the full gamut of online solutions for any kind of business. Contact them here