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An enormous amount of time is usually spent naming a product or service, but is this necessary or justified?

Conventional marketing thinking certainly thinks so, but I’m starting to think that this may not matter as much as it once did.

There are the obvious blunders to avoid – names that are too easily mispronounced, misspelt, have sexual connotations or mean something else in other languages. Yet aside from the obvious hurdles to avoid, many products nowadays seem to grow into their often relatively uninspiring names, in the same way that most children make their names appear to mould perfectly around their personality. “She is SUCH an Aubergine.

Looking back at childhood sweets and chocolates here in the UK, they seemed to have better thought-out and evocative names: Mars bars, Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum, Refreshers, Double Dip, Flying Saucers, Flumps and more. All mouth-wateringly inviting and compelling to the young (then) cavity-free child of the 70s. And they were bigger than they are today too.

my name is whatever you want it to be

Today’s sweets not only avoid quite so many brazenly toxic chemicals, but also seem to have less inspiring names like Soft Eating Liquorice, Gummy Pizza, Fruit Chew, Candy Cones, Pink Pigs, Bubbly, Apple Belts, Gum Sticks, Star Mix and more.

Maybe it’s just me, but todays don’t seem as inviting or as evocative as they used to. Back in the 70s Mars Bars were huge, thick and gloriously heavy – so you can see why they were named after the second smallest planet in the solar system…

It might just be that todays names are targeting a very different audience than me. Or it might be that todays brands grow into their names and transform them into something with a life of their own.

exciting PC names

The first real smartphone (arguably) was from BlackBerry, which was then more or less destroyed by Apple. Neither of which should win any awards for their brilliance in naming, yet both have transformed and more or less taken over the once-dominant contexts of fruit.

PC manufacturers seem more excited by acronyms and numbers than resonant names, while Apple seem to have carved out their own direction. Macbook Air and Mac Pro are cool, self-assured and consistent. They’re also significantly different from Dell’s Optiplex, Inspiron, XPS and Precision ranges.

But does it matter?

The HTC One is essentially an extremely uninspiring name for an incredibly popular phone. Would it have fared any better (or worse) had it been been named Clarity, Connected or Helium? (If the latter is used by Apple for the next release of their MacBook or iPad, remember you read it first here.)

And it’s not just electronic devices that are affected.

The SEO industry has managed to gain the most horrendous reputation over the last ten years. Many people continue to believe that SEO is dying, but I don’t. And the figures from Google Trends suggest that it’s not yet time to write to eulogy:

SEO over time

Yet many companies selling SEO products and services now choose to label their discipline as the relatively new and untainted inbound marketing. And it’s taking off:

inbound marketing over time

Does it matter what you call your next product as long as it’s memorable and easy to spell?

Consider some of the dominant names and brands of today: Twitter, Facebook, HSBC, Nike, Tesco, Boeing, Wal-Mart, Cadburys, Phillips, Sony, Ford, Verizon and hundreds more.

Few of these names mean anything beyond their associations, yet most have become household names and truly integrated into what they do, what they make and what they are known for.

So next time you get stuck on the name for your new book, application, course, system, song or any kind of product, it might make a lot more sense to grab at the first thing that springs to mind, carry out some basic research and just run with it. Terms and conditions may apply, but you hopefully get my point.


You’re almost certainly running Google Analytics on your website. But have you ever stopped to question why? Most likely it’s down to one of the following:

Because it’s free.

If so then you might want to question the wisdom of choosing a solution that monitors your website, analyses your online efforts and essentially directs and evaluates all of your digital activities based on price.

Totally pointless image of Hannibal Lecter

Because it’s already there.

You really don’t have time to find a new solution, set it up, start collecting data and give up all of that precious old data. It would be a poor investment of your time, and you couldn’t possibly pay someone else to do that for you. Right.

Because it’s the standard.

Is that how you run other aspects of your business?

Because it’s easy to install and use.

Analytics is no easier to install than any other solution. And while it used to be easy to find what you were looking for in a short amount of time, the new and constantly changing interface nicely destroyed that particular strength.

Because it’s easier to stick with the devil you know.

This one is probably the most common reason for most people continuing to use Google Analytics, but we you don’t want to admit it.

Because Google have conquered the market and destroyed their competitors.

As good as Google are at conquering markets, they’re also quite good  when it comes to serving up solutions.  Try a search for alternatives to Google analytics for example.

If you’re still stuck for reasons, you might also want to consider the following:

1 – A poor interface and rampant feature-bloat have resulted in Analytics becoming a major black-hole of time and productivity. Ask yourself how much time you spend in Analytics a month, and what you have to show for it.

2 – I love Google and most things that they do – I’m even wearing a Google cardigan as I type this. (See? That much.) But I’m getting uncomfortable as to how much Google know about all of us. It’s bordering on worrying. (Brit-speak for “starting to scare the crap out of me).

3 – The dominant product of every market at some point begins to rest on their laurels. They become too aware of the reasons that most people are continuing to remain with them, so they start to get complacent. Their competition, on the other hand, are hungry and desperately eager to please. Now may be a good time to try them.

Note: This isn’t an attack on Google Analytics as such. This is history repeating itself. The once-mighty King becomes complacent, lazy and starts to indulge his whims. Sooner or later someone will come for his crown.

Are you going to follow the gout-ridden King of yesteryear, or the brave new contender for the throne?


We’re just about to start an SEO project with a new client, and around ten days ago I received the following email.

seo is dead - what again?

I’ve been working with SEO for more than 16 years, and every year come across hundreds of such predictions. I even wrote a blog post on the subject (SEO is dead. Long live SEO.) more than three years ago. It’s interesting to note that a search on Google for SEO is dead produced five million results in 2010. Today there are over 78 million.

Anyway, back to Danny’s email. I should point out that Danny is a very astute businessman. Here’s the email that I sent in reply:

—–

Hi Danny,

Okay a few points. It’s 8:30 in the evening so I’ll try to keep this brief.

- People have been declaring SEO dead for more years than I can remember. Yet with each passing year it’s more important than ever before.

- The author is right in principle (I’m being generous here), but he’s talking about so-called black hat SEO, aka crappy SEO. Google are stamping down hard on dubious SEO techniques, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

- Good SEO (the type I employ) is about helping and guiding Google. Google have always been very supportive of this, which is why they continue to provide SEO resources, send speakers to the better SEO conferences and more.

- Google also offer more tools for SEO than ever before. They have [what amounts to] a spokesperson to help SEOs with their questions, and they post weekly videos outlining some of the issues that SEOs may face. Google aren’t at war with SEO – they’re at war with crappy SEO.

- SEO has become a lot more difficult over the last two years. SEOs now have to join the dots between keywords in Google Webmaster Tools and what’s reported in Google Analytics. We have to understand more technical issues than in the past, use a greater range of tools, and invest the time into keeping up with what’s happening. Five years ago a bright 15 year old could understand and apply the basics of SEO. Today, SEO skills have become something a digital superpower. The barrier to entry is enormous, as it’s a lot harder than it used to be.

I seriously believe that you’re doing the right thing – I wouldn’t sell it otherwise. If, however, you’re not convinced, I completely understand and will happily send your fee straight back to you, with no hard feelings at all. But I think it would be a big mistake.

People are going to be using the search engines to find what they’re looking for for a long time. People like me help companies like you to tap into that. It works. SEO is alive and well.

Over to you!

—–

Danny’s problem is that he doesn’t know much about SEO (not surprisingly), and so has to make educated decisions based on what he hears and reads.

Listening to the wisdom of the crowds may be useful in some scenarios, but when it comes to SEO, the masses simply don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.


Finding a good SEO is as difficult as finding a good accountant*. There’s an abundance of options to choose from, most look good on paper, and they usually sound good when you reach out to them. More importantly still, there’s a good chance that you don’t have the right skills when it comes to separating the sub-standard bullshitters from the trustworthy experts.

Finding an SEO isn't easy

So consider this a starting point: a non-exhaustive list of points to consider when choosing an SEO consultant, written by an SEO consultant. If you have other ideas to add to the list, please send them my way, as this could prove to be a useful resource.

So in no particular order:

Questions:

If you approach me with a view to considering using our services, there’s a lot that I’ll need to know before we can get anywhere close to discussing a price. I’ll want to know details of your SEO history, who you consider to be your competition, how much organic traffic you receive at the present time, the quality of that traffic, whether you’ve been doing anything you shouldn’t, your link history and more.

If your SEO consultant is asking a lot of questions from the outset, it may be a little irritating, but it’s actually a good sign. If they’re just going to plug your site into their crappy automated software that does nothing worthwhile, they won’t need this information.

Access to data:

The only way that I can begin to understand how your website is performing on the search engines is to take a look at the website itself, your Google Analytics data and your Google Webmaster Tools account. This can then be followed up by a quick look at what shows up when I search for your obvious keywords.

Yes it’s a nuisance for me to explain how to set up the access, yes it’s time consuming for me to even just dip my toes into the data, but without this it would be impossible for me to get a realistic understanding of your situation.

Sharing expertise:

Two rules of thumb have been helpful to me over the years. Never give a sales pitch unless it’s specifically asked for, and always be generous with sharing information freely.

Once an SEO consultant has dipped their toes into your data, website and general situation, they will have a pretty good idea of some of the issues that need to be fixed before they can really sink their teeth into your project.

I’m always happy to share our findings with a potential client, whether or not they choose to use our services. I don’t believe that my sending them a list of dead links, incorrect redirects, duplicate content or even a full site audit will make or break them signing up with our services. If they want to fix these things on their own, and go no further with their SEO, then they should do so. And as a buyer of other products and services myself, nothing irritates me quite as much as the “pay and we’ll tell” approach.

If your potential SEO consultant really doesn’t want to share their site audit with you, I’d be concerned that this will be the backbone of their work efforts. Not a good sign.

Tools:

We’re still (sadly) a long way off from the Droids of Star Wars being a reality, so the present reality is that SEO tools don’t do SEO. But an SEO’s tools are every bit as important to their work as those of a mechanic – if not more so. Most SEO tools are clumsy, inaccurate and/or pointless. So an SEO’s choice of tools says a lot about the work that they do.

For example we use the following main tools:

Moz – all-round powertool for most aspects of inbound marketing, with phenomenal reporting capabilities.

Raven Tools – fantastically powerful suite of tools for SEO, content marketing and PPC.

ahrefs - reliable and thorough link reporting and analysis.

Screaming Frog Spider Tool – incredibly useful desktop application for spidering websites.

Agency Metrics – excellent reporting tool that connects the dots beautifully.

When a potential client asks me about which tools we use, I not only consider the question reasonable, but view it as an indication that I may be dealing with someone with an above-average understanding of SEO.

And most decent SEOs will tell you that they generally prefer educated and knowledgeable clients than clueless – speaking from an SEO perspective of course.

How to handle (not provided):

(not provided)

Remember the film Deep Impact? Remember the scenes of pieces of comet debris hitting the earth?

That’s more or less what most SEOs initially imagined once they knew what was coming their way. Yet incredibly, there are still an incredible number of self-proclaimed SEOs who not only don’t have a solution for dealing with (not provided), but in some cases don’t even know what (not provided) is.

Your SEO should have a good methodology and approach in place.  (not provided) is far from an insurmountable problem.

Oh and by the way, Deep Impact came out more than 15 years ago. Oh yes.

Why are my rankings so low?

I like this question, mainly because while there are a fair number of right answers, there are many more wrong answers.

Wrong answers may include (but not be limited to) anything to do with PageRank, AdWords, spend, algae-rhythms, social media and more.

You should be able to get a feel for how much the SEO knows by how they answer this question. And don’t be too discouraged if the answer isn’t 100% clear. There will often be a combination of different factors responsible for your rankings.

How will progress be monitored?

Ultimately the client gets to decide the answer to this question, as they’ll be deciding whether or not to continue when the next invoice arrives.

In days gone by I would have paid a great deal of attention to the volume of traffic for significant and high-converting keywords, but those times have now passed. A good rule of thumb is to keep an eye on performance of the organic traffic. For example if the volume of organic traffic increases, and so do the performance indicators and conversion rates, then something is obviously working correctly.

110% guaranteedSEO guarantees:

No-one with any degree of credibility can make any guarantees when it comes to SEO. The reason is simple. As well as depending on your website/s and incoming links, your incoming organic traffic will also be affected by your competition’s websites, their incoming links, and obviously Google’s presentation of results, and their algorithms and updates. It is simply impossible to make any sort of guarantee when it comes to SEO.

If your SEO makes any promises about rankings or results, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

More ideas?

There are plenty more ideas for ascertaining how much an SEO knows about their field. If you have any more I’ll be happy to include (and attribute) any good suggestions to this article. Please email them to dave@softwarepromotions.com.

* Note: This post focuses almost entirely on choosing an SEO. When it comes to choosing an accountant, I managed to strike gold by sheer luck. Our old accountant charged far too much, did very little for the money and had a knack of making everything seem overly complicated. We’ve been with our current accountant for just over three years, and I can’t believe how lucky we are. For example he likes to put clients in touch with each other when they can both benefit. We’ve acquired a fair number of successful clients in this way. Other accountants out there: why are you not doing this? If you’re based in the UK and wondering how to find a great accountant, your search is over.


The average software company has 1.5 more SEO tools than they use. Obviously a completely fictitious and ridiculous statistic, but when it comes to SEO, it’s become fashionable to talk utter crap.

Last week I had a call with a company interested in our SEO services. We discussed the problem that they’re facing, and they offered to send me data from their SEO tools. The email contained exported data from five different tools and services – not including the exports from Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.

I won’t get into which tools and services they used, and I’ll resist the urge to highlight the discrepancies between the data. The point is that there was a reason for them using a total of seven different services. Because of the impact of (not provided) – click here to see how to deal with (not provided) – they decided that they needed more actionable data.

Now most SEO tools excel when it comes to generating data, but with a diminishing scale that goes from quantity to quality:

The reality of seo tools

This, in a nutshell, is the problem with most SEO tools. They all provide lots of data, a few of them provide useful data, and a very small number provide actionable data. I won’t even get into their accuracy here.

The one thing that SEOs are not short of is data.

Two or three years ago, anyone with an Analytics account could easily see which keywords were sending sending visitors, how many of them, and to which pages. Now that the keywords are gone, Analytics provides us with little more than how many visitors come from the engines, and to which pages.

And so we turn to tools. And with many costing less than a cup of Starbucks “coffee” a day, before you know it, you’re swimming in data.

A lot of data.

Quantity of visitors, keyword guesstimates, pages viewed, organic ranking in different geographic zones, domain authority, page authority, historical rank, trends, domain authority, link authority, authority authority and much more.

Eugh.

Yet none of these tools will provide you with anything more than data. In the right hands, this data can be invaluable. In the wrong hands, at best it is rendered meaningless, at worst it could be damaging.

One example to illustrate the point: We use the excellent ahrefs backlink checker. In the last month I’ve spoken with two people who both demonstrated the same roller-coaster cycle of SEO terror & calm:

PANIC: 

referring pages

Look at what’s happening to our links! They’ve gone! It must be negative SEO!

CALM:

Oh – that was for pages. The graph for actual domains linking to us is much better:

referring domains

PANIC:

But look! Look at the main anchor phrases for our links! That’s an SEO disaster!

anchor phrases

CALM:

Ah but wait! Our CTLDs Distribution and Top Referring TLDs paint a far healthier picture:

CTLDs-TLDs

PANIC:

And so on.

SEO tools are only as useful as the work that they are used for. They are as unlikely to produce results as any other set of professional tools left to gather dust, or used clumsily in the hands of an amateur.

One last example. I recently decided that I wanted to work a little on my lack of creativity.

80 days ago I bought a book called “You can draw in 30 days“. I can’t. Probably because I haven’t started to read it.

I also bought a book called “Star Wars Origami“, but so far no origami adorn my office, for the same reason.

SEO tools are a very poor and highly ineffective substitute for real SEO.

Update:

I should mention that this is not in any way an attack on most SEO tools. We are currently using Moz, Raven Tools, ahrefs, Screaming Frog, Wordtracker, Google Webmaster Tools, agencymetrics and more. They are all excellent tools – in the right hands.


As a UK business you have to register for VAT (value added tax).  Stick with me on this.  You have to register “if your turnover of VAT taxable goods and services supplied within the UK for the previous 12 months is more than the current registration threshold of £79,000, or you expect it to go over that figure in the next 30 days alone.”

Oh, but “if your turnover has gone over the registration threshold temporarily then you may be able to apply for exception from registration.”

And that’s just for a company that supplies goods or services within the UK.

Let’s strip away the confusing explanations then shall we?

As a UK company I have to charge our UK clients VAT at 20%.

I then have to set aside this 20%, and pass this on to the fine folk at the Tax Office.

The client then reclaims the 20% extra that they paid, from the Government’s Tax Office.

In other words if I charge the client £1,000, they have to pay an additional £200.

I then pay the £200 to the Tax Office, who then pay it back to the client.

The madness of VAT

And that’s just for a UK business supplying goods or services within the UK. When it comes to handling payments from companies based in the EU, then it really starts to get ridiculous.

Can you see the issue here?

The obvious issue? The mind-popping, jaw-dropping and astonishing issue?

Here’s a hint: it’s almost 2014.

We’ve put people on the moon, built gigantic stations in space, eradicated smallpox, and one day will get rid of cancer. As a species we’re astonishing.

Yet we still can’t work out a system to avoid pointless admin and money changing hands in a circle, between companies who all have uniquely generated and easy to confirm official identities.

If you look inward, at your own company, can you see any processes, systems or structures as absurd and easy to resolve as the madness of VAT?

Click here for more fascinating details of the VAT system.


I’ve put together a non-exhaustive list of more than thirty ways to ensure that visitors to your website don’t stick around. I suspect that most people reading this are guilty of at least one or two. Fixing them will genuinely make the visitors’ experience, the web and even the world a slightly better place.  (See number 18.)

Confuse them:

1.  Make sure that when your visitors arrive, they have no idea what to do next.

2.  Better still, make sure that if they don’t arrive on your home page, your means of navigation will force them to either click aimlessly, leave, or edit your URL manually.

3.  Use difficult to read and/or understand navigation items.

Annoy them: (this category is only limited by your imagination)

4.  Start your wonderful video automatically – it’s vital that everyone sees it. Bonus points if the video intro is too loud and too long. Double bonus points if can’t be easily found to shut it off. Triple bonus points if it can’t be shut off at all.

5.  Induce finger-ache from scrolling the mouse wheel. (RSI can improve improve ROI.)

6.  Use popups like they’re going out of fashion. I know the good old days of window popups are more or less gone, but there’s a lot you can do with expanding images, navigation menus, hover-over ads and more. Don’t let common sense get in the way of ingenuity. Hello LifeHacker.

7.  Start your brilliant audio automatically. Bonus points if they can’t easily find it to shut it off. Bonus points if the audio intro is too loud and too long. Double bonus points if can’t be easily found to shut it off. Triple bonus points if it can’t be shut off at all.

8.  Use the same sections of text in multiple places on the website. Why create when you can copy & paste?

Scare them:

9.  Make your visitors question how much they really want what you sell. Cookie warnings are good for this. Don’t let the fact that no-one has ever been fined get in the way.

10.  Force them to their private details before they can read your sales pitch or watch your sales video.

11.  Keep the copyright notice at the bottom of your pages (at least) a few years out of date. It forces them to question whether you’re still in business.

Overwhelm them:

12.  Don’t steer your visitors towards your key pages. Give them lots and lots of links to choose from. SirLinksALot has over 440 – how many does your main page have?

13.  Squeeze as much information as possible into a small amount of space. Like this article on how to avoid scaring away website visitors.

14.  Overwhelm with too many choices and options. Tesco’s UK website offers 1,537 results for water.

15.  Demand lots of data in your forms. Why stop at name and email address? Bonus points if you ask for an email address twice.

Irritate them: (more difficult than annoying, but can be more effective.)

16.  Be generous with the number of links on your main pages. (See points 12 and 8.)

17.  Be over-friendly when we’ve only just met. (I’m British. Starting your main page copy with Hey There!!! makes me feel nauseous.) This also works with dialogs.

18.  Share your nauseatingly self-obsessed goals and visions. Your software, product or service probably will change the world. The sooner we know that the better.

19.  Use text that’s hard to read. Too small, too faint, whatever works.

Hide from them:

20.  Offer live support that always diverts me to email. (The online equivalent of “We’re experiencing an unusually high volume of calls at the present time“. Hello Orange.

21.  Offer social-media support that takes a minimum of 24 hours to respond to even basic enquiries. Hello Orange.

22.  Provide a phone number that always (always always) diverts to voicemail. Hello SoftwarePromotions.

23.  Instead of real support, use an online forum that leaves questions and issues to slowly biodegrade. They’ll give up eventually.

24.  Use a support system that forces me to jump through an absurd number of hoops, so that I can then express my dissatisfaction. Anger is a powerful catalyst for resolution, and frustration is a soothing balm.

Don’t forget the tried and tested methods:

25.  Torturous order processes.

26.  Payment procedures that I can’t use.

27.  Spelling mistakes, poorly-corrected speaking, and poor grammar;

28.  Confusing navigation. Hello Atlanta Restaurant Guide.

29.  Domains that don’t match with website names. Hello Atlanta Restaurant Guide.

30.  Following purchase with resounding silence and no email confirmation. Bonus points for then taking three working days to reply to my support request. (I really want to name this company but can’t. Sorry.)

Bonus ideas:

31.  Really strange website layouts that look like rendering errors.

32.  Case studies for bad layout.

33. Wow – just wow.

Pain is a great motivator.

Pain may well have driven me to your website in the first place, but it can just as easily turn me away too. Irrespective of each visitor’s personal level of pain tolerance, everyone has their tipping point.


Today’s website teardown is a little brutal. I’ve been in touch with today’s victim, and in the last email he had the following to say: ”Dave, please be as brutal as you need to be.” I am delighted to oblige. “I look forward to having the shit kicked out of my site.” Excellent. “I hate it more than anybody else and it is a product of me being so overwhelmed that I’ve neglected it for too long.” We’ll see about that.

Transcript for people who like to read (and search engine spiders):

Here we are at BrickOvenBaker.com. At first impressions, the colour scheme is, let’s be charitable and say striking. I know this is a Zen Cart, I can see this at the bottom of the page. I’ve no idea why you’ve got a link to that at the bottom but anyway.

The first impression of the website is that it looks like you’ve taken an existing Zen Cart template, probably something called fiery or hot spicy or something, and done as little work as possible to make it look unique. The problem with that being, you’ve done quite a good job and it doesn’t look unique.

Animal cremation?

The logo, to be honest, looks suspiciously like a burning person or a burning dog, which probably isn’t the effect that you hoped for. BrickOvenBaker.com okay, showing your passion for home made pizza bread & pasta; it doesn’t say that much, but anyway there’s nothing here. Welcome to the BrickOvenBaker.com online store. That’s the first thing that my eye sets on apart from the burning dog. It doesn’t say anything, “If you have an account, we suggest you log yourself in.” This information here is actually the only significant information for the new visitor.

I bet if I click on Home, I’m on the same page and if I click on Shop I’m also on the same page other than the fact that you are rotating some of these things; not very well either to be honest. Having three almost identical products – that could be a whole lot better.

Where are the calls to action?

“If you have an account we suggestion you log yourself in.” Let’s see what happens if I click. Eugh – looks like Front Page, actually it is pre-Front Page. It’s very dated looking. I am guessing this is the same as clicking the log-in at the top, yes it is. Do you know, I haven’t tested this yet, but I bet if I click on subscribe, nothing will happen. Nope, that’s incorrect, I’m taken to a blank page. Okay, let’s go back to the main page. Let’s have a look at some of these categories.

We’ve got pizza over here, I see the sub-categories. Pizza Peels, these all look pretty similar. I’ll ignore the dead image, pretend I didn’t see that. Let’s look at next, it has a distinct lack of anything of substance here. I’m not sure why you are listing a product that is actually sold out. Also, I am not sure why the product that is sold out is the only one with a link to more info.

The problem with these pages is that they are pretty much identical, and this looks suspiciously like the content supplied by the manufacturer, meaning, anyone who sells this thirteen inch rectangular Perforated Pizza Peel with a twenty inch handle is going to be using the identical word-for-word text. That’s bad for the search engines, more importantly, it’s bad for business because there is nothing there. There is nothing compelling here. That’s the problem with the home page, there’s nothing that compels me to do anything at all.

You’ve got some New Products, I suspect they’re not New Products. Best Sellers, I’ve also got my suspicions about, but anyway, what can I do? I can click on Categories, Shipping and Returns, let’s have a quick look there. Shipping information, orders typically ship in one to two working days, typically, some cases may take longer; it may take three or four, please review the other important notes. “We ship from multiple locations.” I don’t care to be honest, I really don’t care. “If you need to light fire under us to make sure you get your items for your big party on Saturday, then contact us to see what we can do.” Why is that not a link? You are now making me wade through your site to see how to contact you. “We work with you, but please give us a fighting chance.” Hmmm.

Lots and lots of waffle.

Heavy items such as the flour or canned tomatoes typically ship by … I don’t care about this, I don’t care. I don’t care what’s the most economical way to ship flour across the country. Really, this is the important information? “When your order is shipped, you should get an e-mail with a tracking number for most shipments,” either I don’t get it or I don’t know why I should wait four days after placing the order and they can contact you, at least there’s an email address there; there’s nothing particularly worthwhile there.

There’s a privacy notice, I am probably one of the few people to ever, ever click on that. There’s a contact us. Contact us; Contact Us: We’d prefer you send an email. To be honest, I don’t care what you prefer because I want to spend money with you. “Please give us at least 24 hours. Email is preferred,” because your staff can be awake. “We do have a toll-free number if e-mail doesn’t work as well for you.”

“If we are not available please leave a message”, blah, blah, blah. Okay, then there is a form. Okay, I like the fact that there are options.

“Send email to only Sales and Support.” Again, this really doesn’t look good. This is probably only going to one person never mind a department, so why do I need to fill that in? Full Name, E-Mail Address, Message. A suspiciously faded looking button, now let’s click send. “Sorry, is your name correct? Our system requires a minimum of one characters … ” It looks like it has just been installed, it looks like this is not even the beta version of the site.

What’s missing?

Okay, so I’ll tell you what is missing here; actually there is a lot that is missing here: Quality, original content… Something else that is missing here is who are you? Who is BrickOvenBaker.com? Who is the person or people behind it? Where you based? How long have you been in existence? If I’m about to pay you, I have no idea how I’m going to pay you, I don’t know if I can pay you with PayPal, with credit cards, send you a cheque in the mail, no idea.

Gift certificates (or not).

Oh, gift certificates, I like that. Let’s have a look at the gift certificates FAQ. Okay, I like that I can purchase a gift certificate. Except I can’t; Gift certificates are purchased like any other item in our store. How? Okay, let’s try that, let’s try Gift Certificate, excellent. Okay, enough said about that. Site map… again looks like this is standard generated by Zen Cart, nothing in there about you.

The biggest questions here are, even if I want to buy what it is that you sell, why should I risk handing over my credit card when I don’t know, number one, whether you will even take my card, number two, whether you are actually in business, number three, whether you actually have the items in stock. I’ll assume that’s the case because some of them do say that they are sold out, but I don’t know when I’ll get them.

Post-mortem.

There are far too many questions. I would love to get an e-mail from you telling me, “Dave, your completely wrong. A lot of people order from us,” but I have my doubts. I don’t even know who you’re aiming at. Are you aiming at people at home who have a brick oven? Are you aiming at small restaurants, large chains, massive organisations, hotels? Absolutely, no idea. There are an awful lot of questions that need answering, and there’s very little, by the way, of solid answers. You did say that you wanted brutal feedback and I hope you found this to be useful.


Having your website critiqued by a fresh set of eyes can be useful, as we’re so used to seeing our websites that we’re effectively blind to any issues that may be staring visitors in the face.

This first in a series of website teardowns is for the Business of Software Conference. If you’d like to submit your website for review, please bear in mind that this was an unusually gentle critique. Put it down to tiredness.

Transcript of video follows (for readers and spiders).

Note that it’s worth watching the video to really understand the issues raised.

Hi everyone. Today we’re going to do something a little bit different. I’m going to be having a look at the website for the Business of Software Conference. I just got back from the conference five days ago, and as you’re going to see, I rate the conference extremely highly. It’s one of the best software conferences in the world; but the question is, does the website match up? Let’s have a look and see.

There’s a lot happening here.

Okay. When I arrive at the website, it’s very, very busy. What jumps out here … well, in a sense, everything, and everything, when it comes to websites communicating, is effectively nothing. It’s very busy. We’ve got the logo, Best of BOS to your inbox,  registration, there’s a countdown. There’s a headline, “Three Days of Peer Learning,” video, headlines, buttons, speakers … yeah, there’s a lot happening here.

There’s also a lot of so-called white space on the sides, although in this case it’s blue space. The content sections are also packed. When it’s this packed, I think it really dilutes the focus.

I’ve only just realized now, actually … the one thing it does doesn’t say … there’s a lot of text here, but it doesn’t actually say it’s a conference. [I realised afterwards that it does - but the point still stands. I initially missed it.] It talks about three days of peer learning for leaders of the world’s best software businesses. It’s got dates. Three days of peer learning sounds like something potentially different from the reality of the conference in a way.

I think this is a problem. I know the event is, as I mentioned, one of the best conferences in the world, but there’s nothing on this page to actually tell me that. If I just happened to click on a link elsewhere and arrive on this page, I’d have no idea what was on offer here.

What resolutions do developers use?

It also looks like the website’s designed for a resolution of … looks like 1,240 x 768, which is a little surprising. You’re primarily targeting software companies, software developers, and most of them are going to have a higher resolution than that on their phones.

My gut instinct, at a guess, is if you going into your analytics data, you’re probably going to see less than 2 or 3% at the most of your visitors, are on such a low resolution, so you’re missing out on all the extra space that you could be putting to better use, not necessarily cramming more information but just spacing things out. Yeah, you’re missing out on that.

Okay, search. Search what? To be honest, a lot of times for a lot of sites, search is there because it can be there, because it’s included in the template. Again, looking at your analytics, I’d be interested to know how many people are actually using it, and I’m guessing not that many. Actually, when someone’s actually arrived because, for instance, there’s a specific talk that they want to see. Do you want them to find it immediately without at least learning a little bit more about what’s on offer?

Black highlighting:

Also, this black border along the top, because the information that’s set on the black background, it’s more or less ignored. There’s a reason why you never see a black highlighter … it’s because you don’t pay attention to anything in black; and, more importantly, it just shoves this content, the real content you want people to look at, it just shoves it down and, in effect, reduces the space that you have without people actually having the scroll down.

Let’s look for some calls to action here. Best of BOS to your inbox. That says very little. Is it a one-time mailing, daily, weekly, monthly? How often? No idea. Register, save  your place for BOS 2014. Yeah, that’s better, but again, save your place for what? Right now I’m not too sure. We’ve got the word “conference” there, but aside from that there’s little to suggest that it is actually a conference.

I really like the Business of Software logo [watch the video to see it]. It’s simple, it’s distinctive, it’s recognisable; but just an aside, I’d like to know if there’s a story or plan behind it or what. I almost … but not quite … love the headline. I think it deserves a bit more space, perhaps not being crammed in with everything else. You’ve got too much in too little space. You never see a newspaper headline with this much because they simply don’t work.

Also, the dates contradict each other. You’ve got the 28th to 30th October over here, and now I’m taken to a page for September 15th, 2014. I understand why. I get why that’s happening. You’ve just finished the conference; it only finished five days ago. I do understand that, but you’ve just missed an opportunity, I think, because this is a time of great online noise and chatter about the conference. Probably the last week you’ve seen more chatter about the conference than the rest of the year put together, and this is a really good opportunity to get some great  coverage [fpr next year's conference].

Missed opportunity:

My advice would be that, from the moment the conference starts, the website should already be about next year’s event, the reason being that most people going to the website aren’t the attendees of the conference. They’re too busy getting overwhelmed with phenomenal content. Most of the people that go to the website are people who just heard about the conference and wanted to get an idea of what they’re missing, so you’ve missed a good opportunity, in a way.

I’m quite sure that you, Hermione, and the rest of the rest of the team will love me for already adding to next year’s workload, but there you go.

Great video:

Okay the video: I love it. It does need a bigger play button. Patrick McKenzie often points out that the bigger the play button the better, and he’s got all sort of funky facts and data to back that up.

Actually your video itself, the content is unusually good and well produced; most aren’t. You do also have some very attractive attendees as well. [Please watch the video before judging me].

A lot of links:

The navigation items are a little bit odd though: blog, new speaker schedule, workshops, hotels, etc. I would be interested to see the data on that as well, how well they’re working. Let’s see what else. There’s a lot of links; in fact there are a huge number of links. Let’s just do a quick real-time check … yeah, there’s 69 … so almost 70 links on the page, which is a huge number. The problem is that in effect you’ve brought people to your website, and what you’re doing is effectively giving them 70 different options of where to click next. What you should really be doing is using this main page as an opportunity to streamline and steer them, to separate them into people looking for details of the conference, people who actually want to register, the people who want to watch the videos, the mailing lists, and so on.

It’s hard for me to look at this website objectively because I’m a big, big fan of the conference; but this page needs to tell me why I should attend. Now I’ve spoken to a lot of people at the conference; I know how they speak of it. Why don’t you have testimonials? Are there any testimonials on the main page? Not that I can see. What a missed opportunity. Testimonials are fantastic, and you’re are unbelievably loved and appreciated event. People love this conference, and speak incredibly highly of it. I think that what they say needs to be up on the page as well.

Let’s have a quick look at the other links. Blog on the news. Yeah, it’s good. It’s nice and up to date. There’s lots of content I can already see here, quite a few articles just in the last few weeks, which is brilliant. Click on speakers … fantastic, some nice content. Schedule … it’s already out of date, but that doesn’t matter. It’s great information.

A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS:

One thing I’m noticing is a lot of capital letters. I don’t like capital letters. A lot of people feel that they shout; I don’t feel that this website is shouting, but it does make some of the content a little bit harder to read. “Over two and a half days you’ll get the theoretical grounding, practical knowledge, personal context that will help you build long-term, profitable, sustainable software businesses.” Wow! That’s a big sentence, even more so in capital letters.

One other thing. I love the colour scheme of the site. Very nice.

Okay. Very quickly right at the end, I always like to see what’s right at the bottom of the pages. You’ve got a site map; let’s see what’s there. Okay so there’s a sire map… which can’t be found. Interesting. If I go to the main page and I go to the site map, I bet I will actually see a site map. Yep … Oooh, oooh, oooh … this isn’t a site map; this is for Google. Do that as an XML file and don’t subject your visitors to this. This isn’t the most useful or practical thing. It’s kind of like an eye test, but aside from that …

So … the main points: declutter, clarify, space things out, and make sure it’s really clear that this is the website for the world’s greatest software conference.


One of the reasons that a lot of companies never get around to even looking into their search engine optimisation is that they don’t really know where to start. They’re often not too sure where to begin in looking at what often appears to be a pretty huge and overwhelming task.

In today’s video I’m going to show you a really simple technique that will give you a bird’s eye view, an overview, of how your website is doing in terms of the volume and quality of traffic that you’re getting from search engines (otherwise known as Google) over time. Best of all: the whole thing will take you precisely 90 seconds.

You have 90 seconds. This could prove to be time very well spent:

So we log in to our Google Analytics account. From here, I want to select the segment to the built-in non-paid search. That’s basically organic traffic. Click on Apply.

I’m then going to apply the date range, so simply make it a year earlier, change from 2012 to 2013. We’re then looking at 13 months. I’m then going to get rid of some of the fluctuations by changing to a week view. And I’m going to drag this little slider to higher precision, to get as much accurate data as possible. I’m then going to compare to the average visit duration.

What we see over time, for this particular site, is that we can see a decrease in organic traffic that then starts to pick up about the beginning of August. When it picks up, we can see that the average time spent is up slightly, which is a good basic indicator of quality.

Here’s a nice little bonus tip for users of Chrome: If I right-click and duplicate that tab, I can then simply close down the non-paid search segment. By default, that goes to all visits and I can then really easily compare the general trends that we’re seeing here with the trend that we’re seeing for the search engine traffic. In less than ninety seconds, with plenty of breathing room, we’ve got a good indicator of what’s going on with our search-engine traffic, both in terms of how much traffic and the quality of that.


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