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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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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How much of an impact does the first impression have on a website? We already know that visitors don’t really spend any time in deciding – they make snap judgments. So why do so many websites fail to deliver?

Transcript of video:

Hi this is Dave Collins from SoftwarePromotions. Today I’m going to be talking about how long visitors to your website spend there before they make up their mind: Do you actually have what they are looking for? Should they click on one of your links, should they read more content, or should they go back to Google and click on the next link?

The fact is we already know that visitors don’t really spend any time at all. They make snap judgments. Most visitors to most websites are very fickle. So if we know that to be the case, why do so many of our websites fail to communicate exactly what it is that we’re selling the moment that a visitor arrives there?

Today, we’re going to take a quick look at three quite different searches that I carry out on Google. We’re going to have a look at the websites that show up in the top results, and we’re going to compare each of them from the point of view of the visitor who’s just arrived there and is looking for what they offer.

Example 1: legal advice small business UK

So I’m going to Google, and I’m carrying out a search for “legal advice small business UK.” The first site doesn’t seem to be pushing much more than the merits of having a .co.uk domain. So whether they have got anything of interest or not, it doesn’t matter. I’m out of there.

The second site, online legal advice from the FSB, what we cover. This is the Federation of Small Businesses, and it could well be a very worthwhile move. But the fact is that I’m looking for legal advice, not to join an organisation. So I’m out of there too.

The third site, Advice Line, well this is an interesting one because actually it doesn’t do a bad job at all. There is a phone number, there’s “immediate and affordable legal advice”, which is really nice. It’s got opening hours, and the fact that it is closed right now, that doesn’t put me off. That’s better than me getting through to voicemail. The site looks very dated, and it looks quite ugly. But the fact is that it’s actually not bad. It gives me what I’m looking for.

The other results… need free legal advice for a UK small business, no I don’t want free legal advice because it’s probably not worth very much. Then it talks about “legal advice doesn’t come cheap”. The whole let me do that for you… yeah not interested in that one.

The next result, oh brilliant, a genie saying “can we help you”? We’re here to help you with any of your questions. Just click Yes below, no cost or obligations. Well, actually I haven’t been helped by your website genie. I’ve been put off by it, so I’m gone.

And the last one is small business heroes, free legal help for small businesses, a very useful guide to what’s on offer. I’m not sure. I’m not looking for free, but let’s have a quick look. It’s easy to put your head in the sand, what’s more hard to find, blah, blah, blah. Fear not, comrades, fear not comrades, really? Okay, I’m out of there.

So that’s it. The one that won was this one. Very dated looking, quite an ugly looking website, but actually it doesn’t do a bad job of communicating.

Example 2: emergency dental service UK

For the next example I did a search for “emergency dental service UK.” The first result, how can I access an NHS dentist emergency? Not really what I’m looking for. Potentially useful, but I’m in pain here.

So I jump to the next one, NHS Direct. If you need a dentist over the bank holiday, you should call your dental practice if you have one. Brilliant, fantastic, goodbye NHS Direct.

Urgent dental care at Kings, I don’t know where Kings is, and there is a limited walk-in service during normal work hours, Monday through Friday. Potentially, limited puts me off, what does limited mean? Normal working hours, I’m actually searching for an emergency dental service, so again I’m out of there.

Dental advice from Leeds? Leeds student medical practice, dentist NHS 24 hour, be aware may have to travel up to 50 miles for treatment. Oh, good grief.

Next one, NHS Medway, I don’t know where Medway is. I’ve got no idea, and I really don’t want to find an NHS dentist in Medway.

Dental emergencies, what to do in a dental emergency, blah, blah, blah, in the UK. Possible contact your normal dentist. Epic fail. At this point, I’m just going to have to take it on the chin and accept that I’m going to be in a great deal of pain.

Example 3: next day building supplies UK

So for the next example I am searching for “next day building supplies UK.” The first example takes me to here, BSO. Bearing in mind what I’ve searched for, next day building supplies UK, clearly they have building supplies. Is there anything about next day? Oh, next day delivery if you order before 12:00 p.m. I would actually highlight that. I missed that when I looked at these before, but okay, that’s giving me what I’m looking for.

Next one, Lawsons, family values, professional service, largest independent suppler. I can see various things that they offer. As far as I can see, nothing here about next day delivery, so I’m gone.

“Builing Merchants”, that looks like a typo, brilliant.

Kent Supplies, feature page title, perfect for all timber. Here at Kent Supplies, supply a few range of products for the building trade, interesting. To find out more about our full range of products, please click the Read More button. Thank you. What? All right, good-bye.

And the final one, ecomerchant.co.uk, buy energy efficient building materials online for the next working day delivery, very basic, slightly ugly, but it jumps out what it actually does. They have what I’m looking for.

Could you do better?

The fact is that most of us could probably do a little better when it comes to optimising our website’s content, and at retaining new visitors the moment they arrive.

Our own website, this is very much ongoing work in progress, and we’re constantly trying out new ideas and measuring what works and what doesn’t. Logging into your Google Analytics account, having a look at the main landing page is a good idea, just to see how these are performing in terms of identifying which pages should be optimised.

If you’re not sure quite what to do and where to start, I highly recommend the CopyHackers books at www.CopyHackers.com. Really, really good, easy to read, easy to digest, and very actionable. And if you’re looking for ideas at retaining your visitors with better copy, this is a really excellent starting point.

The fact is that we work hard at bringing qualified visitors to our websites, so it’s probably a good idea to work that little bit harder at retaining them. Be seen, be sold.


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Every morning I spend half an hour looking at news and commentary from a wide variety of sources. Yet it’s only recently that I’ve become aware of how the quality and creativity of the headlines and titles have improved dramatically over the years.

I think that David Ogilvy may be to blame. And yes there is blame:

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.

The quotation is a great one, but I don’t think it applies to the web.

Inspired headline

My newsreader is full of eye-catching headlines. Yet the majority of them fail to deliver when it comes to the article itself.

Today, for example, there were 43 articles whose titles caught my attention, enough to make me drag the link to a new tab in my browser.

Of the 43, 24 fell by the first two sentences. Eleven lasted two paragraphs. Five were briefly skimmed, and I read three of them properly.

56%: Rejected.

25%: Sniffed.

12%: Nibbled.

7%: Digested.

And another inspired headline

Now let’s consider how the writers of these articles gained from my exposure to their content.

Most of them simply didn’t register as being in any way significant, at least not on a positive way. I didn’t notice who the writers were and certainly didn’t go to explore their websites for more information. Crappy content doesn’t entice me to do anything other than move away fast.

The three articles that I did read, however, produced an altogether different experience.

One of the writers was already known to me, and his article reinforced the fact that he is indeed a source of interesting material. I had never come across the other two writers before, so quickly looked at their websites to see who they are and what they sell. I’ll be following both of them now. Interestingly there’s a reasonable chance that I will be buying a product that the second writer sells. I’m taking a look at it in more detail later today.

But what about the signals that we send to Google?

Of the 24 articles that fell at two sentences or less, there were two or three that appeared to be potentially reasonable, but not what I was looking for. The headline was more enticing than the content. Yet other people may have found the article interesting, and so overall the signals sent to Google (at least in terms of time spent) may have been positive.

The remaining 21 or so articles were simply bad. Poorly written, uninspiring, nothing of interest other than an eye-catching headline.

The data sent to Google by those pages was probably that a very short amount of time was spent there (no more than a few seconds), and no-one engaged with the site in any way before leaving. In other words: this content is of no value.

Poor content serves no purpose. It wastes time, puts people off what you sell, damages your reputation and sends poor signals to Google.

Ogilvy’s quotation was typically brilliant, but the web is a different medium. Great headlines should at the very least lead to reasonable content.


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Transcript of video – adapting to (not provided):

Note: The video is worth watching as I’ll show you exactly what to look for and where. Plus it’s only 6 minutes long with no sales pitch!

Hi everyone, this is Dave Collins from SoftwarePromotions.

Today I’m going to talk about (not provided) and how you can actually deal with this new reality of search engine optimisation.

Now I’m not going to get into the history of (not provided) and I’m certainly not going to start speculating as to why Google effectively hit the accelerator and made this issue explode over the past few days and weeks. The fact is, that’s neither here nor there. The reality is that (not provided) is now here to stay. Keywords are for all intents and purposes a thing of the past.

Now SEOs and online marketers need to understand how we can deal with this.

New strategy:

What we have here is in effect a need for a completely new strategy. The days of going into Google Analytics and just pulling out all that fantastic, rich, nutritious and phenomenally useful keyword information are gone. Instead lets look at the new reality: search engine optimisation for the end of 2013 and beyond.

My new approach is going to consist of the following four steps.

Step one: Google Webmaster Tools.

Now to all intents and purposes, this is as much solid keyword data as we’re going to get from this point on.

Be aware that the figures and some of the facts in the Google Webmaster Tools are not, by any means, 100 percent reliable. However, they are vastly more useful than the simple not provided that goes into the Google Analytics accounts.

Look at the trends over time and pay attention not only to the search queries but also the top pages. You want to get a feel for the keywords that are sending traffic to your website. Which pages are these visitors actually coming to.

Step two: Google Analytics.

Yes, there’s still something useful in Google Analytics for SEOs.

If we filter out organic traffic using an advanced segment; there’s still some useful information. The main two items that I’m interested in is looking at are how much organic search traffic your website is getting over time and I’m looking for trends as they develop. Additionally we’re really interested in which pages on the website are getting from these organic visitors.

Again, we’re not going to get the keywords, but we will see which pages are popular.

Step three: rank tracking.

Now, this is interesting because over the past year or two we’ve seen a trend of people moving away from tracking rank by keyword as a meaningful metric.

With this new change of (not provided), this has once again become quite a useful statistic. So even though we’re not going to see the breakdown of keywords within the analytics data; it’s useful to see which of our obvious keywords are we ranking for and positions – in particular what happens over time.

Did these positions go up? Or did they go down? If so we want to try to join the pieces together to work out why so that we can respond accordingly.

Step four: keyword research.

Now obviously keyword research is already a part of our SEO. The fact is that right now we have some data in our Google Analytics account – from the past month, past three months, past six months, and so on. There’s some some useful keyword data there.

Obviously, with time that source of information is going to disappear to nothing – in fact we’re almost there today.

Keywords do change over time, so ongoing keyword research is going to now become more important. In a sense it’s not going to be something that we just carry out at the beginning of the SEO process when we’re optimising existing content or creating new content. It’s something that we’re going to have to keep on doing throughout, so that we can create optimized content for the keywords and of course track the keywords as well.

Wait a minutes – isn’t something missing here?

Now you may have noticed that the one obvious, so called “solution” that I didn’t refer to is Google AdWords.

The reason for that is I don’t believe that Google Adwords data has a role to play in this process. Why? Because there are a massive number of factors going on within the Adwords account that will affect the data that you can get out of it – such as competition, such as bids, such as budget, geographic distribution and so on.

All of these factors have a bearing on the “facts” that will come out, so I just don’t believe the information that you can pull out of our AdWords account is going to be that useful. It also carries a risk of further clouding the situation, possibly even nudging you towards making some bad decisions.

One last tip:

In your Google Analytics account it’s worth looking at data from the past 12 months and possibly even 24 months or longer. There is still some keyword data that is sometimes useful and relevant. I strongly suggest – as horrible and tedious a task as this is – to dump all of that data and export it into Excel so that you’ve got it. From there I believe it’s worth spending some time cleaning up the list and looking at keywords that are relevant, keywords that you’re interested in, keywords that are relevant. This can be the start of your keyword list that from this point on you’re actually going to start tracking and monitoring the rankings.

So good luck. Get out there. I hope you can adapt to the new reality of SEO quickly and relatively painlessly. Be seen, be sold.


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