#followfriday – are people missing the point?

Twitter 2 Comments

Nearly two years ago, #followfriday was born on Twitter.   Like many things online, it was something started with best intentions but I feel that some people are missing the point.

Each Friday they flood in – all the tweets inviting me to follow someone and quite often, there are several within one tweet.  And I think to myself:

“I follow you, and therefore I want to hear what you have to say on Twitter, but if you’re just going to give me a list of people to follow then it adds absolutely no value!”

In short, why am I going to spend the time to look at the profiles of people who are recommended, just to then possibly think “actually, there’s not much value in following them”?

However, if I saw a tweet similar to this then I’d be in a better position to decide:

#followfriday @kent-weather because they have great local updates on the snow situation

There’s no harm in doing more than one such tweet if there are more than one person worth following each week but perhaps there’s some merit in people stepping back and thinking “who really stood out for me this week and should be my #followfriday focus?”.  That person will feel more special than if amongst a list of several and the recipients of the tweet will consider it more closely.

A new revenue stream for Google – people

Customer Service No Comments

Going back in time you could actually speak to people at Google.  Nowadays you generally only get to speak to them if they’re trying to sell you something (e.g. a trial Adwords setup) or if you manage Adwords accounts worth serious amounts of money to them.

Those days of speaking to Google have gone.  The phone points of contact gradually became withdrawn over time until where we are now, when the most you could expect is to get a response via a forum at some time in the future.

What Google fail to realise is that people have problems with things like Adwords, Google Places, and more.  Those same people also don’t have the time to find the answers online, nor want the frustration of having to do that.  Quite simply, those people want to pick up the phone (and yes, even us at Custwin want to do that sometimes).

Because of the numbers of potential calls to Google it wouldn’t be economically sensible for them to open up phone lines free of charge to people.  But it would make sense to offer premium rate numbers – as long as the caller was guaranteed to get through to people who really knew their stuff (rather than some of the Google monkeys that I’ve spoken to in the  past, who were clueless).    Let’s say that a pretty good Google person (employee or outsourced) would earn about £25 an hour.   Charge the phone lines at £1 a minute and Google have made up to £60 an hour per person, out of which comes their wages and other associated costs.

To the caller it’s worth the money because they get proper answers and quickly (compare that with time/money wasted trying to get the answers online).  Say, for example, someone has a problem with getting listed in Google Places.  They get advice that sets them on the right path and within hardly any time they’re visible when people are searching for their types of searches.   Let’s say the phone call was 5 minutes (£5).  It only takes one new client gained via their Google Places visibility to far exceed that investment.

To Google they’d make an absolute fortune out of all the calls they’d get.  It’d also be easy to scale the operation up or down, as time goes on.

People would then start to like Google more.  They’re in danger of becoming a faceless entity that isn’t in touch with the needs of their customers.  Putting ‘people’ (on the end of phones) back into the mix would help Google in so many ways.

Photos within email signatures

Email Communications 3 Comments

Most people have an email signature set up, providing certain relevant information about how to contact them.  But what about going a step further?

Although I’m sure opinions are divided on this, I think that using photos within email signatures can bring something extra in certain circumstances.  Let’s look at one as an example:


That’s the email signature of a client, who works for Westhill Insurance.  He, and his colleagues, are in email contact with existing clients and prospective clients all the time.  Many of those clients will never actually meet him or his colleagues because what they’re buying is insurance and they can be located anywhere in the country.

What the photo in the signature does is put a face to a name/voice/email.  It adds the human element.  Is that important for products or services that are sold at a distance?  Perhaps it’s not essential but to some people, it will seem friendlier.   Personally, if I was a prospective buyer of something and the email communication I got back included a photo in the signature then I will see them as someone identifiable and it not being just a cold transaction.  

And what if my contact at Westhill Insurance is going to meet someone who he’s never met before, as is often the case?   If he’s sent an email to that person then they’ll know what he looks like, which can help when they first come face to face – especially if planning to meet in a crowded place.  No-one likes looking expectantly at each person who walks into a place that’s been chosen for a meeting, thinking it may just be the person they’re going to meet.

Over the years email signatures have come a long way and although there are cons as well as pros to packing them with all sorts of things, it’s probably worth thinking “could the use of a photo in my email signature be of benefit to me?”.

Those pesky Indians

Email Communications, Website Analytics No Comments

Hands up who’s never been emailed by a company from India, offering web development or SEO services?   If you haven’t then you’re in one of the following categories:

  1. Your web visibility is so poor that you haven’t fallen within their radar.
  2. You’re dead.

According to the emails it’s much cheaper and more efficient to get web and SEO services from India.  Yeah, right!  I’ve spoken to a few people who tried it and had a nightmare (although I’m sure there are positives too).

This week things took an interesting turn – those pesky Indians are getting cleverer.  I was looking through the webstats of a client and there was an email from a Jaime Jack who was from North Carolina, and they wanted to help my client with their SEO.   They left a Gmail email address (that always raises suspicion of course) and no other contact details (website etc.). 

I compared the enquiry form gained to the website statistics data for that time of that day and found that contrary to being from North Carolina, the visitor was from India.   The typical visitor path of looking at a website for a few seconds, going to the contact page, and submitting an enquiry form.   Usually the sender will have said that they’ve looked at the website in detail, which of course, is a lie.

The point of highlighting this is not pick on the Indians because boy, do they go out to try and get business!   It’s to highlight that when you get enquiries and website visitors, not all is what it seems.  Some people, weary of receiving Indian sales pitches, may be more responsive to something that appears to be more English/American, which I guess is what the intention was of that email enquiry (and the thousands more that would have been emailed out).

At Custwin we are big fans of using webstats analysis in a range of beneficial ways.  In this case it’s helped to identify someone trying to masquerade as something they’re not.

Guarantees on websites

Website Development, Website Strategy No Comments

How important is it to have a guarantee on your website?  In our view, very important.

Using the well-worn subject of widgets, let’s say you’ve gone to five websites that sell widgets.  The products are similar and so is the pricing.  But one of those websites has a guarantee graphic that’s highly visible on every page you go to.  The graphic tells you that there’s a 100% satisfaction guarantee and it invites you to click on the graphic to find out more details.  So you do that.

When you get to the guarantee page you see reassuring text that gives you a warm feeling.  On the (hypothetical widgets) website you’re guaranteed that:

  • Delivery will be within 2 days.
  • The quality will be excellent.
  • A no-quibble full refund can be gained within 60 days.
  • And more …

Every type of business will have certain things that can be guaranteed.  But it’s not necessarily about guaranteeing a low price.  Taking the widgets website example, it could be that the one website with a guarantee actually charges more for their widgets than their competitors.  However, if someone buys cheaper from the competitor widgets websites there’s nothing as backup in case anything is wrong.  For the person wanting to buy widgets, they’ll likely pay a higher price if there is a strong guarantee in place that is going to save them pain later.

So why is it that so many company websites don’t display any form of guarantee?   Perhaps some companies worry that a guarantee might be taken advantage of.  They may worry that someone may call in that guarantee.  But that’s such a short-sighted viewpoint when you look at numbers …

Given a choice of several suppliers of products or services, out of every 100 website visitors, a certain number are going to buy from a particular website.  For ease of maths, let’s say that’s 10%  So if 10 people buy widgets at £50 each then that’s a revenue of £500.    If there’s a guarantee in place then more than 10% are going to buy.  So let’s triple that to 30 people out of 100 buying widgets at £50 – that’s a revenue of £1,500.   Even if one or two people decide to call in on the guarantee, and they get their money back, the overall number of people buying will still have been much higher than if there was no guarantee.

A guarantee highly visible on a website conveys a powerful message to the potential customer that the company is so confident in what they offer that they are willing to guarantee it.   When that guarantee also becomes used elsewhere (e.g. on written literature, in newspaper adverts) then it is even more powerful and reinforcing.

Guarantees can also be carefully worded to protect the company.  For example, if a certain level of service was guaranteed then the proviso may be that the buyer of the service follows certain recommendations that are made.

We’ve often heard companies say “there’s nothing we can guarantee”, to which the answer is: “of course you can!” (followed by examples).

As we go into 2011 we’re entering an interesting period – the VAT increase to 20%, influences such as higher fuel bills, credit cards to pay off …. they’ll all have an impact on the willingness of people to buy products and services and it will affect everyone in some way down the buying chain.   Part of the answer is for companies to make their websites more visible (online and offline) but more important than that, is making the websites strong enough to convert visitors to buyers.   After all, what’s the point in spending money on marketing a website if those visitors may go off to a competitor?

Although many people and companies will be looking for a bargain on products and services, use of a strong guarantee within a website could help to retain your profit margins by encouraging higher numbers of website visitors to make contact because they’re savvy enough to realise that even though you may not be the cheapest provider, the guarantee is actually of more value to them than saving a little bit of money.

How to avoid dumb PPC advertising

Google Adwords No Comments

I typed ‘white truffles’ into Google today and look at one of the adverts that appeared …

Other adverts appearing referred to either white truffles or truffles in general but this one appears reasonably high up and seems to boast “you want white truffles, but we sell black truffles”.

There’s two things that could have happened here …

1. They’re advertising just under the word ‘truffles’ and so will appear under various search phrases.

2. They actually want to be visible when people are looking for white truffles, as if those people are going to be tempted to click and then buy black truffles.

If it’s number 2 then they’re going to create themselves problems because the majority of people searching for ‘white truffles’ only want white truffles.  This means that the advertiser will get a low click-through-rate, which will have a negative knock-on effect to their campaign, including paying higher costs per click to stay high up.

It may be that they don’t even realise they’re visible under all sorts of search phrases but chances are that they’d get some clicks from people who searched for ‘white truffles’ and as soon as those clicks are gained, they’ll show up in their Google Analytics, which should be enough for them to then put negatives into their PPC campaign, which would stop them being visible under phrases such as ‘white truffles’.

There’s something that Google don’t shout from the rooftops to PPC advertisers: you need to be looking at not just the clicks  you get, but at the actual keyword phrases that the searcher had typed before clicking on your advert.   Simple systems like Google Analytics will provide such information or there are other webstats analysis systems that will provide better insights (ask us if you need help here).

Let’s say that the truffles advertiser had 100 clicks in a day but very few, if any, sales.  Their PPC campaign would tell them that they got clicks for certain keyword phrases but the reality could be that the actual phrases typed by the searchers were quite different.  By using webstats analytics software they would have the answers, could make refinements to the PPC campaign, and so attract more relevant clicks.

I’ve used the phrase ‘dumb PPC advertising’ but that’s not really fair.  Many advertisers aren’t dumb – they just don’t realise how much the Google system will allow them to make costly mistakes.   Google will let you make plenty of mistakes because ultimately it benefits them financially (short-term anyway, until the advertiser feels that PPC doesn’t work for them).  Thankfully, for every mistake, there’s an answer.    This is just one answer to one issue and quite simply advises:  don’t view the PPC clicks in isolation – use a webstats analysis tool to identify which actual phrases people searched for, which brought up the PPC adverts.  Then make changes accordingly.

Season’s Greetings from Google – what an insult!

Google Adwords No Comments

Today Google emailed out their PPC advertisers to thank them for using PPC, which has enabled Google to contribute $20 million to charitable organisations around the world.   They also give a link to a YouTube video that explains how the money will help.

Aaaaaaahhhhhh, that’s nice.

Or is it?

While no-one can say that $20 million is not a good gesture, it’s worth putting those figures into a bigger perspective. 

In 2009, Google’s revenues were $23.6 billion.  Based on current figures, 2010 looks like hitting about $28 billion.  Doing quick sums shows us that the $20 million charitable donation works out at about 0.07% of total revenues.  Not exactly a huge percentage is it?  If Custwin was to make that same percentage donation it would come to under £100.  Hang on, if we multiplied it up by, say, 7 times, we’d be donating 0.5% of our revenues – that would make us (proportionally) so much more generous than Google!

I’m being flippant of course but the first point is that $20 million is a microscopic amount of money compared to what Google bring in.

The second point is about the flip side of the coin.  The organisations benefiting from the Google donation will, I’m sure, be grateful.  But perhaps charity should begin at home, with the advertisers who buy Adwords clicks.   It’s becoming increasingly the case that PPC clicks are getting costlier – there are many reasons for this but one big reason is that the Google system actively stops advertisers from using the system in a way that would be fully beneficial for them.  Here are just two examples ..

Broad match

If people set up PPC in the way that the system will allow them to do (by default) then they will lose money hand over fist – guaranteed.  It is so easy to prove that broad match PPC advertising is wasteful on advertisers budget and yet Google don’t go out of their way to encourage advertisers to use the system more effectively.  It’s much easier (and profitable) to let advertisers make costly mistakes.   Contact us if you need any examples to show you why broad match in PPC is a disaster zone.

Niche phrases

If you’re an advertiser who wants to be visible under a phrase such as ‘red widgets with blue stripes’ the Google system won’t allow that because it’s considered ‘too niche’.  As an advertiser, you may not care that relatively few people type that phrase, but you still want the option to be highly visible when people do type it.  Instead, you would be allowed to advertise under the phrase ‘red widgets’ and to do that, would have to offer higher click costs because of the levels of competition for that phrase.  

The fundamental flaw in the Google system is that it forces people down a path of having to use more generic keyword phrases, which gets expensive as there’ll be more competition bidding on those phrases.  What it should do is recognise that there’s a strong link between what the person searches for and what an advertiser has as a keyword phrase.  Taking the red widgets example …

If someone types ‘red widgets with blue stripes’ then they have a need for that type of widget.  They would much rather see an advert appear that refers to what they need, rather than a load of adverts for red widgets or other widgets.  In theory, Google should allow such keyword phrases and if someone types them it matches up with the most specific advertiser, not the advertiser who is prepared to offer the most cost per click.  The searcher gets what they were looking for and so are more likely to click on future PPC adverts.  The company gets a click to their site that hasn’t cost them a fortune.

Google give many (pathetic) reasons why they won’t allow advertisers to use niche phrases – none of them have any real credibility.  The only real reason is that they realise they can make more money from getting advertisers to compete against each other (for more generic keyword phrases) to have higher positioning.  But it’s very short-sighted and dumb for Google to look at their revenue stream in that way.   Small companies dominate the world but they don’t have huge budgets for clicks.  Thousands (probably millions) of small companies won’t use PPC (or have tried it and it’s not worked for them) because of the costs.   If Google allowed advertisers to use more niche phrases, and as long as those adverts got a reasonable level of clicks compared to searches, then everyone should be happy.  Google would be especially happy because revenues would increase massively as smaller businesses suddenly found that the system works for them.

The end result of all this?  Searchers find the PPC results to be so much more useful (by getting niche results appear for their niche search phrases).  Advertisers gain better quality traffic and enquiries/business as a result.  Google make a lot more money because small businesses feel there’s good reason to advertise and it’s going to be cost-effective.

What would Google do with that increase in revenues?  Hey, they could increase their percentage of charitable donation.  But I doubt that would happen.  Think more of what impact the smaller businesses could have if the PPC system was friendlier to them – increases in business leads to increases in revenues and the positive knock-on effects from that would be huge.   There’s constant talk about recession and companies not doing well – show me a PPC campaign and I’ll show you where the wastage is and my finger will be pointing at Google for allowing companies to waste money and make mistakes through their PPC advertising.

$20 million donation from Google?   Pah, what an insult!  They make more money than that in a single day of wasted clicks from advertisers being led down a path of advertising inefficiently.

Santa Pause – have you got everything right?

Website Accuracy, Website Development No Comments

While undertaking research for a client today we found a website that demonstrated the importance of spending more time checking that everything is correct.

If Santa Claus left the North Pole and forgot to feed his reindeer he wouldn’t get very far.  A ‘Santa Pause’ to check they’d been fed would be wise.

A ‘Santa Pause’ would have been useful for Inghams, having created the content for their website.  A pause, in the world of website development is taking a bit of time to run through the whole website to make sure that it’s sending out the best possible message to potential buyers.

By taking a ‘Santa Pause’, Inghams (http://www.inghams.co.uk/santa-holidays/) may have noticed this technical glitch that comes up on various pages …

Moving away from technical glitches (which, after all, could have happened well after the website was created), content glitches are worth focusing on.  We went to the page http://www.inghams.co.uk/santa-holidays/resorts/, which shows two Santa resorts but as you can see in the screenshot below, there’s no difference between the description of each resort …

What’s clearly happened is that the website owner has used the same text for both resorts but this leaves the potential buyer thinking “what’s the difference between those resorts?”.  From looking at the page the only difference appears to be that one has an altitude of 200m and the other has an altitude of 230m.

It’s fair to say that the resorts could well be very similar but the website owner has missed a trick by not taking a ‘Santa Pause’ to look at the pages from the viewpoint of the potential buyer.  In times when we’re used to having systems that let us compare products on websites (e.g. comparing a few fridges on the Comet website) we adopt a mentality that it should be easy to compare most things online.  So, when confronted by two resorts that appear to be exactly the same we think either:

1. the website owner has been lazy by using the same content, or

2. the resorts offer exactly the same

Most people would probably think as per number 1 above and would wonder why the website owner didn’t create content that was unique for each resort, which would help the buyer to decide which to click on to see more details.

Whether a website is new or it’s been updated, double-checking how the website pages will look to potential buyers is a fundamental basic for all companies to do.

Introducing Tommy Dellar of Custwin

Website Analytics 2 Comments

Tommy Dellar joined Custwin as a Business Administration apprentice on 1st December.  He will be contributing blogs from time to time, sharing his views on the work involved in a website consultancy from a fresh and new perspective, and evolving over time.  Over to Tommy …

As many people may suspect, tea making duty is of course part of the job as an apprentice; although it isn’t the only duty I have been assigned within the first week of working with Custwin.

As an apprentice I am constantly learning how to use new programmes efficiently, gaining new skills and gaining a better understanding of what is actually involved in working within a website consultancy business.

For the first week of the apprenticeship I have been learning how to use an online programme called Webstat.  The basis of the programme is to show details of visitors to a client’s website.   Using Webstat we are able to determine the time and date of the visit and we also aim to identify how and why they visited the client’s website.  We can also often see the name of the company who has visited the client website.

With the information we are able to gain from the Webstat programme, we can then identify important and useful information which will be of interest to each specific client. We do this by simply extracting the data from the Webstat system and then displaying it in a Word or Excel document, which then makes it easier to both analyse and understand. When analysing the data, we highlight all important information, and remove any data that is neither important or of any potential interest to the client, which therefore leaves just the important information.

Once the data has been carefully analysed, we are then able to add some comments, which helps the client understand the information further so that they can use the information.  For example, we may identify that a certain company has visited their website and looked at certain pages, which may be information that they can capitalise on.

Although interrogating data for hours each day can be fairly gutsy, seeing the end result and the potential benefits for clients can be extremely rewarding, as well as the skills I’m gaining and improving.  And the tea duty is a nice break away from the computer screen!

Websites under construction – the message it sends out

Website Development, Website Strategy No Comments

I’ll admit that this tickled me because of the irony.   A company that deals in the construction of carriageways (roads, pavements etc.) who have a website that’s ‘under construction’ …

While companies may have numerous reasons why a website needs to have an ‘under construction’ page up, it never ceases to amaze me why companies do it.   Is there someone that says “I really hate that website, it’d be better to take it down while we create a new one”?

Looking at it from the viewpoint of the potential customer, what an ‘under construction’ message says could be any of the following:

1. The company don’t have their act together.

2. The company has a genuine, and very temporary reason to be ‘under construction’ (e.g. a website hacked).

3. The company doesn’t realise that it’s ok to have the old website live while working on the new one in the background.

4. The company isn’t very organised.  If there WERE organised then they’d have planned the new website well before the time that it was necessary to have an ‘under construction’ page displayed.

That particular site in the example hasn’t just appeared like that – it’s been like it for at least a few weeks (to my knowledge).   How much potential business is being lost?   How far behind is the SEO potential?  And what person takes ultimate responsibility for allowing the online presence of the company to be portrayed in that way?

It’s fair to say that in many companies there’s a lack of awareness about how to handle a change to a new website.  In the case of Kiely Bros it wouldn’t have taken a huge effort to create one or a few pages that went into a little more detail about the products/services on offer, so that it does at least look like a live website.  The website visitors don’t need to know that a new website is upcoming.

I suppose though this does beg the question – if a website is really poor then is it better to have that live or have an ‘under construction’ page up during redevelopment?    Whatever the answer, all the time that a website isn’t strong and live, potential business is being lost to competitors.

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