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Most AdWords accounts use some form of conversion tracking as a metric of success, yet this model is flawed to the point of being meaningless.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of why there may be a disconnect between the ad click and the conversion here, but if you want details read Tracking your AdWords return on investment.

I will, however, show an example that illustrates why conversion tracking is meaningless.

The story of Misguided.

We’ll consider the case of Misguided, a company who sell an online solution for tracking productivity. They’ve been using AdWords for many years, and consider it an important part of their overall marketing strategy. Their AdWords account is managed by an inept ad agency, who’ve assigned Fritter to handle their work.

When Fritter began managing their AdWords, he setup conversion tracking to record anyone who creates an account as a conversion.

So a person searches for a productivity solution, clicks on Misguided’s ad, and has a cookie dropped on their system. Assuming they like what they see, they then open an account and, this is recorded as a conversion.

One of their main campaigns (main #1) rather conveniently receives a round 100 conversions a week.

Fritter thinks he’s quite the AdWords expert, and thanks to reading Tracking your AdWords return on investment, knows that 100 conversions a week won’t be all the conversions, but he uses this data as a useful metric.

So if rc is recorded conversions, nc is non-recorded conversions, and ac is actual conversions:

rc + nc = ac

Fritter hasn’t quite understood the implications of this though, and doesn’t understand that nc may actually be more significant than rc. This is a fundamental mistake on his part.

In the main #1 campaign, for example, even though Fritter has no way of knowing this, there are twice as many non-recorded conversions as there are recorded.

In other words:

100 recorded conversions + 200 non-recorded conversions = 300 actual conversions.

Fritter has been trying to optimise this campaign, and in doing so has disabled a large number of countries that were generating a lot of clicks but absolutely no sales. The result of that is that the campaign is now spending more of its budget in the United States.

One of the implications of this is that there are now a greater proportion of searchers using mobile devices and tablets. As a direct consequence, the number of disconnects in the conversion tracking process has increased.

This results in AdWords reporting 75 recorded conversions a week, instead of the previous 100.

Making a big mistake.

However what Fritter can’t see is that although there are less recorded conversions, there are more non-recorded conversions than before:

75 recorded conversions + 275 non-recorded conversions = 350 actual conversions.

Again, Fritter can’t see this. So what does he do? He forgets the significance of the non-recorded conversions, is swayed by the apparent decline in conversions, and cuts the budget to that campaign.

Fritter can’t know that he’s cutting the budget to the most profitable campaign in the account, mainly because he’s being deceived by the perception of accuracy.

In a sense, you could argue that Google make the misinterpretation easy. The screenshot below shows a total of 11 performance-related metrics. Five of them (highlighted in red) are as good as meaningless.

Misleading conversion data

I’m not suggesting that you pay no attention to reported conversions, as under certain circumstances this information can be quite useful.

But don’t rely on it, and don’t use it as the basis of making decisions on running the account.

The obvious question now is what should you use to determine the success of your AdWords account. The next post will deal with that issue, and give you all the answers you need to make meaningful and accurate decisions.

For now:

Don’t Fritter your account budget with Misguided goals. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.)


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Have you ever used a technique for years, only to find out that it blows people away? For SEO purposes I use a very quick and simple system to find the right keywords, that factors in how popular a keyword is with the level of competition. It only takes a few minutes and helps you tap into the gold that lies buried  in the rubble that Google give you.

I really recommend that you watch this video. If you choose the wrong keywords for your SEO efforts, not only are you wasting your time, but you’re also missing out on a lot of people who want to buy what you sell.

The text below is a transcript of the video - at risk of sounding like an SEO, it is good for Google’s spiders…

Choosing the right keywords

Hello SEO people! One of the challenges that we face when we’re grappling with SEO for our businesses is choosing the right keywords. Without going too deeply into it the problem is we want to target keywords that are obviously relevant to our business, that a lot of people are searching for, and that there aren’t too many other websites competing with.

So, how do you strike that balance? How do you choose keywords that are relevant, sought after, and not too competitive? The good news is it’s really easy. The even better news is I’m going to show you how to do it.

Tools: AdWords account and Excel

The two things that you’re going to need to carry out this remarkably effective method of keyword research is first of all Microsoft Excel, which I assume that you have, and an AdWords account. If you don’t have an AdWords account (I’m baffled) but get one because they’re very useful. The other you need is Google’s keyword tool that they’re now calling the keyword planner. So go to Google and search for “keyword planner”, and if you’re not logged into your AdWords account you’ll then be gently prompted to do so and we’re going to click this first option – search for new keyword and ad group ideas. So for the sake of an example we’re going to imagine you’re selling high quality dog food, it’s as good example as any.

So for the product, or service, we’re going to enter exactly that. Keep an eye on the targeting options over here, right now it set as all locations, or languages. Sometimes it defaults to your local version, so for instance if you’re based in the U.K. you might see Google U.K., it’s worth checking on that. So put your keyword in there, I recommend one main keyword initially, and then click on get ideas. Once the data starts to come in we’re not interested in this tab; the ad group ideas, but we are interested in the tab next to it; the keyword ideas.

This is what you typically see – that Google gives you 801 keywords, 800 of them are related and associated keywords, and the one is your original. You can see there’s a lot of information here, but it’s not in a particularly good format, it’s not very easy to read, and actually Google are giving you more information than it at first appears. So what we’re going to do is download this spreadsheet, click on the download button, save it as an Excel .csv file, click on download, get the prompt, save the file, and then we open it.

Export the data

And when you open the spreadsheet it’s going to look a little bit like this. Now, it’s a whole lot of different information here, let’s just open up the column so you can see everything. We’re not interested in most of these. We’re not interested in the ad group. We’re not interested in the currency. We are interested in the average monthly searches and the competition. We’re not interested in any of the other columns to the right, so you can get rid of all those. So what we have here, let me just tidy this up, sorry, I’m a little anal with these things.

What we have here are Google’s suggestions for keywords that they feel are relevant to that initial keyword that you put in. So we’ve got the keyword, for instance; high quality dog food, we’ve got an indication of the average monthly searches, and we’ve got competition . . . bear in mind this is ad data. This is primarily, in fact totally, based on out data, but it doesn’t matter. I’d rather get some data from the source than no data. So we’ve got the keyword, high quality dog food, we’ve got the average monthly searches, and we’ve got competition. So the dilemma that some SEOs have is which is more important?

We obviously want to be targeting keywords that have a lot of searches, in other words we don’t want pages set up to target keywords that one or two people are searching for every month. However, we also want to factor in how many people we’re competing with, how do we do it? And the answer is we use both. We set up a fourth column in D that I call KPI, it’s a little tongue in cheek, keyword performance indicator, and all I do is apply a very simple formula. So put equals to tell Excel it’s a formula, and what I do is I’m taking the monthly searches, see, if I click on it, it shows it’s B2 squared, so B2 multiplied by itself, and then divided by the competition.

So we’ve got average monthly searches times monthly searches divided by competition, and we get that figure there. Now, you’ll see why in just a moment, I’m going to tidy this up by right clicking here. I’m going to tell Excel here that this is a number (with no decimal places) for ease of reading we’ll use the thousand separator, the comma. What I’m then going to do is copy that formula all the way down by double-clicking that little square, and I get this, let’s open it up a little bit. What we have here is a very simple formula for factoring in monthly searches and competition, and in a way here, the higher the figure, the higher the KPI, the better in terms of the most searches and the least competition.

So I’m going to hit windows control shift L, and then go and sort down from the largest to the smallest, and then we’re getting this. Let’s delete that first irrelevant one, and we have some that look like this. Now, this is where you have to be a little bit careful, we don’t need to work all the way through all 800 entries, don’t worry about that! But we want to find the best keywords that are right at the top. So just take a moment to remind yourself what we’re doing here; we’re choosing the keywords that have a healthy volume of monthly searches with a reasonable level of competition.

Cleaning up

So the process is we start to work our way down the list and get rid of the keywords that are not relevant. So for instance, dog food is definitely too general, pet supplies too general, and so on. You yourself will be able to pick out the correct keywords for your products, because obviously you know your keywords, you know your products, you know who you’re targeting and so on. You want a really good match here. You don’t want keywords that are loosely related to what you sell, you want keywords that are very, very closely bound to what you sell; that’s a really important point.

So what we have here, take this first example on the second row, best dog food, this is according to the model that we’ve used here, the best keyword. Yes, the competition is high, competition is graded from a zero all the way up to 1, so a .99 is very, very high competition, 0.01 is a very low level of competition. So we do have a high level of competition here, however the reason why this phrase “best dog foods” is in first place is because of the number of monthly searches.

So using this formula there’s a kind of trade off, a kind of balance, between searches and competition, but we see the score is considerably higher. This is a considerably more valuable keyword than number two in the list, which is the “science diet”. Again, this is all dependent on what it is that you’re selling. These keywords have to be a really good perfect fit. If they are, then you’ve just found the perfect way to strike the right balance between number of searches and the level of competition. Go out there and conquer.


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After an insanely busy six months of work, our SEO Demystified course is now live.

We’re running a 25% discount on the pricing – but only for the first 48 hours.

At the time of writing this post we’re down to 1 day 20 hours. So what are you waiting for?

It’s a great course and comes with an unconditional 30 day money back guarantee. So you have nothing to lose and so very much to gain.


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SEO has somehow become the exercise equivalent of the online business. Young startups can worry about it later, and many middle-aged companies know they should be doing it, but somehow don’t get round to it. Until, that is, something terrible happens to them.

SEO email

This is the point that many businesses finally get around to taking their SEO seriously. When something like this happens it can be devastating. I’ve seen it countless times.

Yet it’s so incredibly easy to avoid.

You don’t need to invest massive amounts of time. You don’t need to sign-up for expensive tools and services. You don’t need to yuckify your website content to please Google’s spiders. And you don’t need to employ risky strategies that have the potential to hurt you.

If you set aside five minutes and 53 seconds today, you’ll be in a far better position than you were when you started reading this post.

Step 1: 90 second SEO health-check.

Time required: 4 minutes 23 seconds.

2 minutes 53 seconds to watch the 90 second SEO overview video – no additional tools required.

90 seconds to check your website.

Step 2: Google Webmaster Tools HTML check.

Time required: 45 seconds.

Go to your Google Webmaster Tools account and check the recommended HTML improvements here:

Google Webmaster Tools

 

Step 3: Google Webmaster Tools crawl errors.

Time required: 1 minute.

Go to your Google Webmaster Tools account and check your crawl errors here:

Google Webmaster Tools crawl errors

 

Step 4: Check your links.

Time required: 45 seconds.

Go to Ahrefs Site Explorer & Backlink Checker – no account or signup required.

Put in your domain and see how the results compare with what you expect to see.

If you carry out all of the above steps and don’t hit any serious problems, you can at least know there are no SEO fires to put out right now.

This doesn’t mean that you should continue to neglect your SEO, unless you want to be sending me one of those emails at some point in the future. Like your health, you may get away with neglecting it for some time, but sooner or later the day will come when it catches up with you. And when it does, preventative steps will no longer be an option.

In a few days we’ll launching a course that will demystify SEO, and show you precisely how to use it in your company, without having to invest large amounts of time.

It’s reasonably priced, very practical, concise to watch, easy to implement and may prove to be a very smart use of your time.

Click here to be notified as soon as the course goes live. Oh and you’ll also receive a 25% discount as well.


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The following conversation contains scenes of SEO nudity, and may not be suitable for the easily offended, the SEO ignorant, or most CEOs. Reader discretion may be advised.

The names and personal details have been changed to protect the clueless.

MeansWell: “Okay, but this one, this one here, this is a really important keyword for us.”

Me: “Great, let me look into that.”

MeansWell: “Okay… but what’s to look into? It’s an important keyword. In fact it’s our most important keyword. We have to be in first place.”

Me: “That’s fine, but I’d like to research how many people may be searching for it, and also get a feel for who’s ranking above your company and why.”

MeansWell: “I can see who’s ranking above our company. I don’t care why, I just want them to be below us.”

Me: “What you see in your browser isn’t necessarily what most people will see when searching for this keyword. For a start you’re…”

MeansWell: “I don’t care about that. I care that whenever I search for this keyword I see Wikipedia in first place – they’re not selling this product, we are. And underneath Wikipedia I see [name of company who've been online and selling the product for 15 years]. I need to be on top of them.”

Me: “Let me look into it and get back to you with some solid numbers. I suspect there are…”

MeansWell: “Dave, you’re not hearing me. This is a really important keyword to rank for. We get this and we’re happy. Before Google took the keywords away [his words not mine] this was our main keyword. This one generated the traffic. This has to be our keyword.”

I can’t tell you how incredibly close this is to a real conversation I had only last week. Or how many variations of this conversation I’ve had over the last ten years or so.

I can, however, give you some sharp, pointy spears to throw at people next time you’re exposed to these arguments – even if they come from yourself.

Ranking position is subjective – what you see in your browser will depend on your geographical location, whether or not you’re logged in and your search history. Use a more reliable service such as Google Webmaster Tools or Moz. Bonus tips: (a) never forget what the word average means and (b) short-term fluctuations are common and to be expected.

Keywords that generate traffic are only half the story - there are also other keywords that you should be getting traffic for but you’re not. These of course will not show up as clicks. Bonus tip: impressions in your Google Webmaster Tools account may be enlightening.

What’s above you matters – if you’re consistently ranking in 2nd place for the name of a product you sell, and the number 1 spot is taken by Wikipedia, that’s okay. They don’t sell the product – you do. Bonus tip: setting a goal to out-rank your competition for specific keywords may be realistic. If the competition is Wikipedia this may be like trying to throw pebbles at the moon.

BIG TIP: Targeting the wrong keywords is one of the most common SEO mistake that I see. It’s impossible to guess the terms that people may use to try and find what you sell, and even a little surface scraping should produce some eye-opening facts. Data always wins over intuition and the obvious.

Todays SEO post was bought to you by years of frustration.


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I’m genuinely excited (and petrified) to be applying the final tweaks to our SEO course. We’ve been working on this for months, and even though I have no idea how many people will buy it, (a) I finally have a scalable product, (b) as fiercely critical as I am about my own work… I actually think this is rather good!

Registration will only be open for one week, but if you sign up here to be notified as soon as the course goes live, you’ll also receive a 25% discount.

The video below will give you a taste of what it’s all about and the feel of the course – turn up the volume, maximise the vid to full screen and enjoy!


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The anti-Google brigade seem to have missed Google’s greatest coup: not only knowing everything about us, but now even understanding our intentions better than we do ourselves.

For example when I search for Cloud Computing, of the nine standard results that Google show me, six are variations of “what is cloud computing“, even though I may have been looking for cloud computing companies, cloud computing providers, security, examples or more. This is very much Hummingbird in action.

And when I, as an SEO, set my page title and description to help Google and visitors alike understand the content of my page, Google may choose to display a title and/or description of their choosing, according to what they think the page may be about, and according to what they think the searcher may be looking for.

So we have search results that are tailored according to what Google decide I’m really looking for, and not to what I said I was looking for. And we have Google deciding what a page is really about, and not what the content creator says it is about.

Prior to this, some believed that Google knew more about a person than any other person. Today Google have cleared that final obstacle. The difference is enormous with potentially far-reaching consequences.

The old Google model

 

The new Google model

 


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The era of being able to accurately track your online marketing efforts is over. Or more accurately: the era of thinking you could accurately track your online marketing is over.

Only a few years ago, we thought we could track almost every single keyword that was used to find our websites. The reality was that we could track the keywords that were used to click on our websites in the search engine results. If we’d have left it at that, the difference would have been minor, but we didn’t.

Once we could track our keywords, we then wanted to link them to conversions. We wanted to know which keywords resulted in the greatest number of enquiries, signups and sales, and why not? The information was there. Except it wasn’t.

A few years ago we worked with a company who were spending a great deal of money on their AdWords ads. Initially they were confident that the ads were sending targeted visitors to their website, but with time they became accustomed to the smörgåsbord of data that was there for the taking, and started trying to track their ROI more accurately.Precious

After months of implementing an impressive series of steps to track their conversions to previously unheard of levels, they saw their worst fears confirmed. Their AdWords account wasn’t anywhere near as profitable as they’d thought. In order to confirm this they decided to freeze their AdWords account for a seven day experiment to see what impact this had on their sales.

If I remember correctly it was just over 24 hours later that they turned their AdWords ads back on, as the immediate and dramatically negative impact on their sales was all the proof that they needed. Their brief but costly experiment had taught them that conversion data is not to be relied on.

This particular company was fortunate in that they not only had high volumes of fast-converting data to reach this conclusion quickly, but also had the foresight to test their theory before fully committing to it.

I won’t bore you with the variety of different reasons that there may be disconnects in your conversion tracking, but I will ask that you at least consider the idea that your tracking may be dangerously misleading.

Let’s take a step back. If I were to build bird houses and sell them in local markets and craft fairs, I would be able to precisely track my ROI, based on the costs of my time and raw materials, the costs of my selling at each event and the sales from each.

The same rules, however, do not apply online – at least not for most businesses. And this goes far beyond the issue of which attribution model you choose to work with. You simply cannot track all your sources, and more importantly you have no idea how representative this data may be.

When a person fills out one of the forms on the SoftwarePromotions website, we can see where that person came from as a referral source.

In days gone by we used to also ask people where they heard about us, and the disconnect between what people said and where they actually came from was enormous.

So even when you can track, you can’t necessarily rely on the data produced.

We also recently started working with a company that I first met at a conference many years ago. When they filled out the form on our website I could see that they “found us” through Google. This was in fact true, but also quite incorrect.

I can only imagine how many businesses close their AdWords accounts in error because of incorrectly calculating a poor ROI.

I assume that this is significantly less than the number of businesses who spend far too much on their accounts but never realise.

The house, in this case Google, always wins. And they don’t even need to rely on statistical probability – they can weight the system as they see fit.

Conversion tracking is an extremely useful indicator. Using it as anything more can be deadly.


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When it comes to AdWords, what works for some may not work for others.

One account’s goals may be different from another. I might want to show my ads to a large number of people, while you might only want to show your ads to those who are at a specific point in the purchase process.

We each have different agendas and how each of our accounts perform will be fundamentally different. We will also gauge success differently.

Begin by taking a step back.

Ask yourself, what do you hope to achieve by using AdWords, and how realistic are those goals?Goals Concept

AdWords provides you with the ability to precisely target your prospective customers as well as the analytics to back it up. The problem is that most people don’t know how to correctly interpret the analytics.

You should know that conversion tracking as well as Google Analytics are integral to understanding how your account has been performing. Clicks, impressions, CTR, cost and average position will only tell you one side of the story.

You want to understand what happened after the ad click.

What most people don’t realise is that conversion tracking is not accurate. You’re able to track some data but you won’t be able to tell how accurate it was. You won’t know if it was 10%, 90% or 100% of the actual conversions.

If you concluded that success is down to ROI, you’ll need to identify all the people who clicked on your AdWords ads and paid for your product or service. The problem is that you might not be able to see that occur every time.

In my years of AdWords experience, I have dealt with a wide range of AdWords account types. Accounts that advertised pregnancy classes, luxury resort rentals, real estate, enterprise level software and more. They all had one thing in common: Tracking success within AdWords is a problem.

Each of those accounts received sales, however they weren’t always attributed back to AdWords. Understanding this lack of accuracy with conversion tracking is critical when interpreting your account’s performance.

Determine what you can track.

If you’re just tracking sales and you’re not seeing many conversions, you won’t be able to act on that data. And you need data in order to make decisions.

Think in terms of what people do once they arrive on your website, starting with what you want them to do once they arrive on your website.

Most probably don’t arrive and then enter their credit card details. Your potential customers are more likely to read a few pages, fill out a form, download your software prior to purchasing or simply leave.

Track them all. The more data you have, the easier it will be when making decisions that impact your account.

Keep in mind that once you begin tracking more than one type of conversion, you’ll have to weigh them differently. Someone that clicks on your AdWords ad and then purchases your product will be more valuable than someone who just downloads a PDF whitepaper.

At this time, Google don’t look at them differently. To Google, a conversion is a conversion. Meaning you have to be careful when using Google’s conversion optimization tools.

Sometimes, you need to look beyond the conversion.

Let’s assume for whatever reason, that you can’t track sales back to AdWords. You’ve proceed to setup conversion tracking for various actions across your website, all of which indicate an interest in what you’re offering, and it’s producing plenty of data.

Just because you’re seeing large numbers of conversions doesn’t in itself mean anything.

To put it bluntly, people are strange! You might find a situation where a website or search term results in a large number of conversions that has nothing to do with your product or service.

These people are clicking on your descriptive ads, traversing your website, and ultimately performing those conversions.

Everything indicates that these people are interested in what you’re offering, however you’ll need to put the conversion tracking data aside and try to understand what is truly happening.

Conversions tracking will only take you so far.

Don’t let it lead you to the wrong conclusions. Understanding its limitations will help you determine if AdWords is working or not.

Start by reviewing your search terms report. This report provides you with the exact searches people performed in order to trigger your ads. If they seem overwhelmingly off-topic, then you’re not targeting the right keywords or you’re allowing irrelevant traffic to somehow enter the cycle.

Review your CTR (click-through rate). How has it been trending over time? If you’re seeing that it’s rising, that’s a good sign because it means that you’re delivering relevant ads. Google will reward you for relevance by showing your relevant ads more often and at higher positions. If you’re seeing that your CTR is declining, that’s not a good sign because it means you’re not showing relevant ads. In turn, lower CTRs could result in your ads being shown less often and possibly costing more per click.  

Review your bids and your average CPC (cost per click). If your bids are set too low, your keywords won’t trigger your ads. Setting your bids too high, will result in wasted spend. You wouldn’t want to pay more for something that you can get for less.  

Review your average positions. If your ads are shown predominantly in lower positions, they will be clicked on less often or not clicked on at all. That will impact your CTR as well as your cost per click.     

Review your Analytics data. Once people click on your ads, you need to understand what they do after they arrived on your website. If they leave immediately (bounce rate), then your landing page might not be the best fit. If people are arriving and then viewing a few pages (pages / visit), that could be a good indication, however you need to make sure they’re visiting the right pages. If most visitors are not finding what they’re looking for, that’s not good.

Review your conversion data. Once again, you need to be careful when analyzing your conversion data. Understand that the absence of conversion data does not necessarily mean that it’s a bad thing.

Last but not least, never look at just one metric. A high CTR is pointless if most visitors leave your website within a few seconds of arriving.

On their own, each metric is meaningless. Combined they carry power and authority.


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I recently stumbled across a great source of practical, qualified and tailored advice for our company. He knows our business like no-one else, is an expert in his field, always has time for us, and is completely free. (Despite the publishing date of this post, this is not an April Fool’s Joke.)

Aaron and I recently had our annual get-together, where we carved out a few days to look at some of the bigger issues of our business and to plan the year ahead.

When we do this each year, magic happens. I don’t know if it’s because of the face-to-face real interaction (Aaron typically flies to the UK for this), or because we set time aside from the day-to-day practicalities of running our business. But it works, and most of our biggest successes over the years began in these meetings.

But there’s a problem. We often get stuck in a rut, and start to obsess over some of the minor issues and practicalities, instead of making progress on the bigger picture.

So this year we somehow came up with this two-pronged approach for maintaining our focus.

The first was that we kept reminding ourselves to take a step back. It’s too easy to get sucked into the nitty-gritty and minor details, and when this happens, the flow of ideas and creativity can come to a juddering halt.

Bertie

The second thing involved taking this idea even further. At the risk of sounding slightly deranged, we repeatedly called on a totally fictitious and slightly ruthless consultant who we named Bertie. (I honestly don’t know why.)

We kept asking what would Bertie say? For instance when we were looking at some of the more time consuming processes that take up our working hours, Bertie (who quite enjoys being blunt) would ask “obvious and reasonable” questions that an outsider might ask. “Why are you doing this when you could outsource it?“. “Why do you do that at the most productive time of your day?“. “You really spend that much time on this? Do you think that’s using your time wisely?” and so on.

Bertie was (actually is) more than just a devil’s advocate. He doesn’t only take the opposing view, he digs, probes and questions everything that we do. And it’s incredibly useful.

Bertie has already become an important member of our team, and as silly as the idea might seem, he might well prove to be equally useful for your company too.

Give Bertie a try. He’s free, understands your business and really does help bring some important issues to light.

As yourself: What Would Bertie Do?


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