Indexing of audio CDs

I get by with a little help from my..Google Analytics Search Terms report

OK, so it’s maybe not as catchy a title as the original I grant you but I’ve been reminded today of how useful the search terms report in Google Analytics can be for discovering user needs.

For the uninitiated, Google Analytics (GA) is a tool which measures the use of your website by those who visit it. If you’ve configured it correctly, one of its many functions is to capture what people type in the search box on your website when trying to find things. What’s important about this is that these search terms provide little nuggets of insight into what visitors really want from you.

Real needs of real people

By analysing the search terms report in GA, you can start to draw immediate insight from what you’re seeing. For example, just today I looked up searches on the Doncaster Council website containing the word “help”. Aside from the worrying number of people that searched simply for “help” on the site, it started to reveal a pattern. Can you spot it?


Of the top 11 searches, 120 people have searched for help relating to school uniforms. What’s not immediately clear is exactly what sort of help is required with school uniforms but number 3 is probably the most revealing, and likely. It would be wrong of me to make assumptions of course.

So what?

It took me about 30 seconds to find this. Armed with the information, my first task would be to see what content comes up against those search terms, if anything at all.

If it’s missing, we can work with the appropriate team to see if this is a need we should be meeting or, if not, where to signpost visitors to. If it does exist then perhaps we have some work to do to make the content easier to find.

The report effectively sets off a voyage of discovery of how well your content meets the needs of your visitors. This is just one of many ways to explore user needs so you can start to make your website more effective.

At a more strategic level, this data could even feed into policy making if it indicates a wider societal need.

When working with other teams at Doncaster Council, we’re using this report more and more to have interesting discussions with them. It can help them better understand how the website can work for them to reduce unnecessary contacts (thus saving time and money) and ultimately to make life easier for residents & businesses in the borough.

Over to you

This post is about only one part of a very specific report in GA which has plenty of other ways to gain insight. How are you using it to benefit you and your organisation? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

📸 Photo credit: Andrew Smith

White mug with the caption "I heart spreadsheets"

Why spreadsheets are your formula for failure

White mug with the caption "I heart spreadsheets"

Photo courtesy of Craig Chew-Moulding –

Imagine a world without spreadsheets.

OK, maybe your weekly/monthly/quarterly budgets might be a bit more tricky to manage but I thinking more along the lines of using spreadsheets for things without figures or finances. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dispute the fact that spreadsheet software is great for charting and accountancy – plus, with some VBA trickery you can do some rather clever stuff.

However, there must be a wealth of useful company information entrenched in spreadsheets, hidden deep within folder structures on already cluttered network drives. Sound familiar to you?

I simply don’t understand why so many people turn to age-old bookkeeping software for things like project management, planning, strategy or just simply as a way to present information in a table format. (*shudder*)

By locking information away in a single file, with slim to none collaboration potential, and not even hosting it on cloud storage so others can get to it just seems crazy these days.

To coin a phrase – there’s an app for that. Several in fact. You only have to Google the phrase “project management tools” to end up with a wealth of results, light years beyond the likes of Excel.

I’d be lost without web apps like Basecamp, Trello, Evernote & JIRA (and I’m trying to get into using Slack more as well).

Don’t get me wrong, I respect that people have workflows that suit them. But to me, continuing to use spreadsheets for team based project management is like trying to conduct research without an internet connection. Like trying to brush your teeth with charcoal. Like trying to cross an ocean on a rowing boat.

Sure, they can all be done and produce results but why make life harder than needs to be? With a wealth of tools now available to make you more productive, collaborative and responsive then perhaps there’s no excuse not to be more innovative too.

So here’s my rallying call: let’s release data from cellular bondage and do something good with it.

Over to you – could you live without spreadsheets or are they an essential part of your workflow? Would love to hear your thoughts.

In defence of #ukhousing comms professionals

I see Nick Atkin has provoked a few housing (comms) professionals over the last couple of days after some of his comments made during his workshop session for the recent NFA conference were published on Inside Housing (IH).

Before I continue, here are a couple of disclaimers – I wasn’t at Nick’s presentation so the following is based purely on the IH article…and I am a housing comms professional. This post is also not designed to pick everything he’s said to bits – I’ve met Nick a few times now and appreciate what him and his team at Halton are trying to do, particularly in advancing digital culture.

However, I’ve read the article a few times now and whilst I appreciate, through Nick’s own admission, that the session was designed to be provocative, I can’t help feel that one of the points made was below the belt. Not because it was necessarily inaccurate, but by the use of such a broad brush to paint a bleak picture of housing comms.

If you’ve read the article, and particularly if you’re a comms person, I’m sure you know the line I’m talking about:

“If you give your social media account to your comms people they will broadcast boring, staid, corporate glossy messages using words that mean absolutely nothing to anybody. So if you do nothing else, wrestle it away from the corporate comms people.”

Bit of a teeth-dryer this one. So the suggestion now is not only to open up social media beyond the comms teams but to actively “wrestle it away” from those trained professionals whose day job consists of PR, reputation management, creativity, brand development, innovation and writing human interest stories amongst many other tasks?

From some of the seminars and conferences I’ve been to over my last couple of years in housing, I don’t think I’ve actually met anyone in housing comms who has an active desire to broadcast boring corporate messages. Quite the opposite in fact. A lot of the problems still seem to stem from senior managers, executives or even boards who remain fearful of social media and won’t allow their increasingly frustrated comms teams to innovate. They have long recognised the power of social media, how it can add a human face to their company and encourage really useful discussion direct with customers, tenants, residents or whatever we’re calling them this week.

Paul Smith makes a valid point in the comments section of the IH article too about customers driving our social media agendas, not us “#commsheroes”. At North Lincolnshire Homes, whilst we’ve had a facebook page for a few years now, what it’s actually worked best for is providing a forum for customer service. By having a page, monitored by customer service advisors it’s allowed us to sort out their problems in the public arena. In return, said customers have remained loyal to the page and allowed us comms folk to share our boring, staid corporate glossy messages human, informal yet respectful messages with them and have some quite interesting discussions around bedroom tax, home security and other topics of interest to the tenants.

There are some other facts we can’t forget. Of course, social networks are a wonderful way to communicate with our tenants in quite a cost effective way. I had the pleasure of assessing the facebook presence of some 240 housing associations last year as part of the Connected Housing Index with Anne McCrossan and co at Visceral Business. It revealed some really great use of the platform and inevitably some dormant or poorly monitored pages littered with ignored comments from customers.

What was most surprising was though was that only a handful of housing associations had more than 1,000 page likes. So straight away, #ukhousing’s facebook presence is quite limited. Let’s add to this problem. We don’t have any control over what facebook does with the content we post on there, unless we start paying to promote or ‘boost’ posts.

It’s well documented that earlier this year facebook allegedly changed its algorithm which appeared to vastly reduce the reach of the average facebook post – by this I mean the amount of people who actually get to see the status you’ve posted.  Not only that but more and more brands and companies are trying to squeeze onto facebook timelines so it’s inevitable that more and more of our posts will drop off, unless it’s corking content that’s heavily engaged with.

So, in quite a long winded way, what I’m trying to say is whilst I agree with Nick’s sentiments that housing needs to embrace social media more, we’ve still got to be mindful of more traditional communication channels before we charge off into the light. In fact, it’s probably more useful to look at building our own online communities away from third party platforms, much like the Connected Housing Index and Thom Bartley endorsed earlier in the year.

Similarly, like Paul Kennedy points out in the IH article comments, there’s still an awful lot of work to be done with actually getting tenants online before we invest all our energy in improving our social media presence. But that’s a post in itself.

I’m not really bothered too much about the debate for or against social media, I think we can all agree that we need to do more with it but it does still need some form of control and monitoring to be done successfully. It’s all a balancing act really of empowering everyone to make the best use of it.

However, what I am bothered about is learning from you, fellow comms professional, about the trials and tribulations of creating engaging content. Do you find it easy? What do you find works for your tenants? What do they like to talk about? Is it photos that do it for them? Text statuses? Videos? Feel free to comment below.


One final point that made me chuckle, soon after reading the IH article I received an email from a journalist asking for more information in relation to a social media post they’d read on one of our accounts about a recent drugs raid on our patch. Good job we had a press release ready to go… 😉

Like taking horse tranquillisers

A random title for a blog post I grant you but all will become clear. I’ve spent the last few months since completing my final year of Uni looking for a tablet. Frankly, at the time I didn’t know if I really needed one of not but being a “poor student” for so long and after completing an arduous three years I felt I deserved a treat! I already had a Samsung Galaxy SII running ICS which I loved, although it was a little too small a screen to browse the web and read articles on it for long periods of time. I’d also kept my laptop from my old job which was running Windows 7 – after formatting and reinstalling it was working well. However, for quick browsing when sat on the sofa it still wasn’t all that great waiting for it to boot up and not very sociable when perched in front of it. I needed that thing between the rock and the hard place…

So the question was, which tablet should I buy? I try and catch the Guardian Tech Weekly podcast on the walk to work which over recent months has charted the gradual demise of BlackBerry, so that put the PlayBook out the way. The Motorola Xoom was suggested by someone at work as a suitable device for web browsing (which was all I really wanted it for to be honest). However, just the mention of Motorola took me back to dodgy pay-and-go phones at school and, not knowing any recent successes that Motorola had device-wise, I was troubled with the possible reliability of the hardware. That left an assortment of tablets from the likes of Asus, most of which were running different flavours of Android and the hard-hitters from Samsung such as the Galaxy Tab. There was also the possibility of an iPad but I wasn’t going to get locked into a format like that, I’d made that mistake with the iPhone 3G.

I didn’t get much chance to play with many of the Asus offerings – the one or two I’d spied in our local branch of PC World were drained of all their juice. A shop assistant informed me that some of the local “cherubs” had a habit of stealing the power cables. Fortunately they had a good selection of the Samsungs to play with. However, it was the new Google Nexus 7 sporting the new Jelly Bean OS that caught my eye and after a few minutes of playing with it I fell in love with it. It was like the bigger, admirable brother of the Samsung Galaxy SII but without the extra tat and overlays…but it was simply too small at only 7 inches. A real shame. So that left the Samsungs…but they were sluggish. Had there been a Google Nexus 10 I would have probably snapped it up there and then. I even looked at the iPad but simply didn’t appreciate this new “Retina” screen Apple and co keep banging on about. It felt like an oversized iPhone – how could they justify the cost?!

Usually I’m pretty decisive when it comes to tech; reading the reviews, making an informed judgement, playing with my gadget of desire then finding the cheapest price for it online. However, this time I was paralysed with choice. Nothing really jumped out at me. It reminded me of this TED video I watched a while back. Even a play with the Head of IT’s Galaxy Tab, with its attractive keyboard dock and USB mouse input didn’t make the situation any clearer – thanks anyway though Mike!

So, what did I do in the end?

I bought the new iPad.

Even now I don’t know what compelled me to do so, maybe I was sick of messing around so followed my head rather than my heart; recalling the many positive reviews and personal endorsements, and hoping for the best. I felt dirty and wrong approaching the counter in Tesco, buying back into a brand I’d vowed never to do again. Not only was I buying an iPad, I was also buying it in Tesco, the corporation sucking the life out of our high streets. Even on the way home I was thinking about turning round and returning it for an immediate refund and preparing for a stern telling off from my IT colleagues back at work the next day. I skulked back home, where my other half was most excited that I’d arrived with a new box with an Apple on it. She even had to open it for me as I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

After just 15 minutes of playing with it, all of the rave reviews that I’d seen of it made sense. All of the people I’d spoken to about it who vouched for how good it was, I finally believed. Obviously it’s early days but it just does what I need it to do and makes it all very enjoyable too. The retina screen really does make browsing and reading articles a crisp experience, bringing even the most dull sites to life. I get it now, I really do. Sorry IT chums, I’ve turned to the dark side again. ..but it feels soooo good.

Internet Explorer 8, Temporary Internet Files and Roaming Profiles don’t mix!

Think I’ve finally solved a problem that’s been bugging me for months. Was experiencing an issue whereby roaming users were finding that IE kept freezing or locking up a few seconds into loading. It was definitely user-based as I could log on with a different (local profiled) user and not experience any problems.

Turns out there’s an issue which I wasn’t aware of with roaming profiles and IE temp files. This would explain why deleting the user profile and data would temporarilly fix the problem until the temp internet files file grew again.

It’s a really simple fix: in Tools -> Internet Options, go to Advanced tab, scroll to Security and tick “Empty Temporary Internet Files folder when browser is closed”. I’m hoping this will also fix a long log-off time too where I’m guessing it was having problems syncing the temp internet files.

More info here:

Keeping my fingers crossed. Just need to find out how to deploy this setting via group policy now.

SharePoint Woes

Been tinkering around with a new SharePoint installation today on a single machine using Virtual PC.

Came across two very useful guides which refreshed my memory:

First one is more of a how-to guide on single virtual machine installs:

Second solved an annoying 401 error after setting it all up involving a loopback issue that needs disabling in the registry:

Hope you find them as useful as I did. If nothing else, this post will jog my memory for next time..