Is it worth advertising with Applegate or or other online directories?

Online Advertising 1 Comment

Last week I was asked the question “Is it worth continuing with Applegate advertising?”.  It’s a question that you can substitute ‘Applegate’ for anything else (e.g. and the answer would always be the same:

How much business has it brought you already?

To which the answer is usually: “I don’t know”.

It’s a common problem and underlines the stupidity that goes on within so many businesses – signing up to online directories, costing a fee, and then not measuring what’s gained out of them.  Then when it comes to renewal time there’s no way of telling if the advertising had worked or not.

It’s not hard – just these simple steps will answer the question of whether any online directory is worth advertising in:

  1. Record every enquiry that comes into the business.  Include the date and time of enquiry and if possible, try to determine where the enquirer found out about you.
  2. If the source of the enquiry can’t be easily determined then refer to your website statistics package and link the data in there to the date and time of the enquiry – this will show you whether or not it came from an online directory you’re advertising on.
  3. Keep a monthly tally of how many enquiries originated from each source of company visibility, plus how many of those enquiries became something more useful.
  4. After a few months compare the cost of the directory listing in that time period to the business gained from enquiries identified to have come from that source.
  5. If results aren’t great then decide whether it’s because the directory isn’t sending enough traffic to your website or whether the fault is actually with weaknesses within your website (which would stop potential buyers from making contact, having found you via your directory advertising).  Better still, get your website reviewed for strength before attempting to make it more visible online!
  6. Make changes accordingly.

To be honest, any business who spends money on advertising in directories such as Applegate, etc., and who isn’t measuring what they gain out of it, should reprimand the person stupid enough to have laid out the advertising money in the first place, but who didn’t insist on a method to measure return on investment.

AVG Complaints – a lesson in complacency

Customer Service, Online Reputation Management No Comments

We all know that when companies get too big they can become complacent, but do the companies themselves know how much of a negative impact they create for their future business?

When it comes to choosing anti-virus software there are some well known brands, of which AVG is one.  Being well known, you’d expect it to be quite stable and if problems occur, there’s backup support.  And there is – sort of.

Recently I had to renew the AVG licences on two machines.  I had the fully paid versions and they became updated, which is where the problems started.  From relative normality beforehand came problems with AVG thinking certain files (emailed to me or accessed over the network) had viruses in them.  They didn’t.  Then it became clear that if a suspected dodgy file was emailed to me, AVG would completely strip it out (it’s a bit embarrassing asking your staff why a certain file hasn’t been emailed when it had been but AVG chose to strip it out).

Within the AVG system there’s the ability to submit a suspect file (that’s been put in the virus vault) to AVG along with a note about the problem.  So I did this and waited for a response.  And waited and waited.   A couple of weeks later I did the same.  And nothing came back – as if my requests for support disappeared into a black hole.

So guess what?   Five ‘Custwin’ machines will soon have another anti-virus solution, that apparently won’t cause such problems.  That solution is immensely cheaper as well.   So AVG have missed out on a potential five sales of their software, not to mention ongoing renewals each year.  Add to that anyone we speak to, when the subject of anti-virus packages comes up, where we’ll be anti-ambassadors for AVG.  You start to see how the spread of negative publicity starts to happen.  OK, we are tiny minnows to AVG and perhaps us and our sphere of influence has little impact on their bottom line.  But what about other people who have the same problems?  Do they become anti-ambassadors too?  And what will happen when AVG realise they don’t get renewals next year?  Will they attempt to find out what the dissatisfaction was?  Probably not – it’s easier to just pump extra money into marketing to new people.

Is it because the AVG system is rubbish?  Not at all – it’s probably just being over-zealous.  Is it because the AVG response system fell over twice and they don’t get a third chance?  Absolutely!

When websites send conflicting messages

Website Accuracy No Comments

This is purely for fun but there’s a serious point to make too.   I stumbled across a website called VoucherHub and specifically a page offering voucher codes for free Google Adwords.  That page is at

The main part of that page can be seen below …

Near the top of the page it says ‘Sorry, no vouchers at the moment’ but at the bottom of the page there’s the Google advert for ‘Free £30.00 Ads on Google’   A bit of a conflicting message there!

A really really picky person (even more so than me) may think “they’ve given an option to subscribe to be notified of future voucher deals but they’ve not picked up on that £30 offer from Google so how can I believe they’ll be on the ball with new offers?”.

Voucher code sites are becoming more and more popular, as people’s financial spending power is decreasing.  There’s a lot of competition out there (for example, type ‘Google voucher codes’ into Google and that VoucherHub site doesn’t appear until page 3.   If they invested more in SEO to get onto the first page then it would become more important that there weren’t any such conflicting messages on pages as in this example.   Otherwise, people would visit their website, see there’s no clear offer, and would look at the other search results, many of which DO give the £30 voucher much more readily.

Getting websites up in Google is easy isn’t it?

SEO No Comments

People in any industry get frustrated by the assumptions and comments they hear from existing or potential clients.

In the web development world one such issue is that it’s common for clients to think that a web developer can just throw up a website, without much input from the client, and then when it all doesn’t look quite right, that it’s a 5 minute job to put right.

In many cases it’s also not uncommon for clients to think that everything can be done for tuppence.

A common question heard by website marketing people is along the lines of ‘Getting websites up in Google is easy isn’t it?’.  The client website goes live and even when on-site SEO has been incorporated into the strategy and everything has been done ‘right’, there’s still a strange viewpoint (from the client) that Google visibility will come overnight.   There’s very little understanding that organisations such as Google allow websites, and pages within websites, to have prominent visibility for a wide range of reasons and yes, there are many other companies in competition with the client who have been doing things better for a lot longer.

This blog is for all those out there who want just a tiny insight into the complexities of getting websites highly prominent in Google.  There are some very simple steps to follow …

  1. Look at the PDF
  2. Feel free to scan through the various elements of that PDF.  Some of those elements aren’t purely for SEO but the majority are.
  3. Print the PDF off – it’s one page and is impossible to read.  That’s the point – it gives an indication of the scale of work that Internet marketers have to do in order to get results for their clients.
  4. Next time the subject of Google positioning comes up, appreciate that while in many cases, great results can be achieved relatively easily, the more competitive the marketplace (the client is in), the more challenging the Internet marketing is going to be.

Promoting your website via Google Places

Google Places, SEO No Comments

Tristan Collings gives us some insights into how businesses, particularly those that have a geographical focus, can benefit from Google Places …

Every day, people use Google to search for all sorts of products and services and many searches are regionally specific – for example, ‘boiler repairs Ipswich’, whereas others are more generic (e.g. ‘boiler repairs’).  Most people looking for a local service will tend to add in a geographical reference.  This is where Google Places becomes so important for businesses hoping to capture the interest of the people searching because Google have given those local search results much more prominence than ever before.

While millions of businesses have already claimed their free local business listing on Google Places, there are still so many who don’t know what Google Places is and what effect it could have in generating traffic to their website.

Claiming your Google Places listing is free so there is no reason why you shouldn’t do it.   If you have not already claimed your free Google Places listing then please follow this link:

There are a series of boxes to complete, including the radius that your business covers.  If you get stuck then feel free to contact us for help with no strings attached.

Having your Google Places set up though is not a guarantee to always appear high in Google when people search on relevant phrases.  For example, if someone types ‘plumbers London’ then there are obviously numerous London plumbers all competing to appear in the first page of Google Places listings.  There are various tweaks that will help boost your Google Places visibility but one particularly important one is to get reviews of your business (which sends out more of a message of ‘credibility’ to Google and the people viewing the search results).

The Google Places system is able to gather testimonials related to your business from various systems across the web, but you can also encourage clients to leave reviews directly via Google.  The instructions below can be given to your customers to help them leave a testimonial for you on Google Places:

  1. Go to
  2. Sign-in to your existing Google account or create one if you don’t already have one.
  3. Set your public Google Places nickname if you haven’t done so already.
  4. Search for the company in which you would like to leave feedback for, for example, ‘east coast heating ipswich’.
  5. Click on the required link from the search results and a new window will open.
  6. Scroll down the page until you get to the section, ‘Reviews by Google Users’ and click the link, ‘Rate and Review’ to leave feedback.
  7. You will now have left feedback on the Google Places page of the company who has provided you with a product or service.

Twitter: Don’t follow until you’ve got something to say

Twitter 1 Comment

When someone starts following you in Twitter, what’s the first thing you do?

In my case I look up their profile to see what they’ve been tweeting about and then judge whether it’d be worth following them back.   That’s probably what most people do – quality, not quantity of following being the emphasis.

Sometimes I get followers who have hundreds of followers themselves and are following hundreds of others …. but they’ve only sent a handful of tweets.  This may be because they don’t have a lot to say or they may be quite new to Twitter but the message is confusing.   Here’s one I saw today:

To have sent only 27 tweets and have 646 followers doesn’t add up.  The assumption is that they’re just using a system (automated or otherwise) to follow numerous people in the hopes that they’ll be followed back.  And guess what, it sort of works for them – 646 followers all following on the basis of a handful of tweets.

I looked at the tweets and although I’m sure they may have plenty useful to say at some stage, it didn’t come out in those tweets.  In such cases I don’t follow back.  Each of those people have one chance to grab my attention and is the initial follow blows that chance then they’ve achieved nothing (except the dimwits who follow anyone that follows them).

What people like that should be doing is initially building up a bank of tweets worth looking at (i.e. are useful) and only then go on a mission to connect to people – that way they should have more success in grabbing attention.

How to cheapen a great domain name

Online Reputation Management, Website Accuracy No Comments – what a fantastic domain name to have.  A website full of money-related stuff, including insurance products.   Such a domain is in a great position to impress their readers and subscribers and I almost signed up to join their 530,000 other subscribers.    Until I saw the page

There’s nothing wrong with that page as such.  In fact it gives some great advice on what to look out for when buying critical illness cover.  But the page is there mainly to link people through to the page of critical illness products on offer, which is at  On the surface the page looks good, as this partial screenshot hopefully shows …

A neat graphic showing key information about the critical illness products on offer, along with a nice bold ‘Best Price’ button to click on.  So I clicked on the Best Price button on the HSBC line, which brought up the following:

Bearing in mind I’m interested in the HSBC offering and the box is titled ‘HSBC Critical Illness Cover’, it’s perhaps a bit odd to see Google Ads for Bupa, ASDA, and RBS, out of which only one refers to critical illness cover.   Below those adverts is the text:

We do not have a direct link for HSBC Critical Illness Cover. Click here to visit the HSBC home page.

Why would I want to go to the HSBC home page?  I want to see what they’ve got to offer on critical illness, having compared them to others in a table.   What’s laughable is that I try out the HSBC website and they don’t have a critical illness product – they have a ‘serious illness’ one instead.  That’s  a bit pedantic but it shows how weak the large organisations are in assessing where their lost opportunities are.

The big point though is about the box of Google ads that appear because it’s not just for that HSBC line, it happens on all of them.  It looks as if this part of the website is purely there to capitalise on people clicking on the Google adverts, even though it’s not giving them what they asked for.

There’s another point to be made here – in the adverts that appeared only ASDA referred to critical illness in their ad.  Both Bupa and RBS had generic ads that could have applied to other types of insurance.  That is unbelievably sloppy management of advertising budget by the so-called ‘big boys’.  Do these people not measure where their advert clicks are coming from?

Thinking from the perspective of all those companies who have their brands up there on that page, they’re effectively being ‘used’ as a teaser for people to click on a ‘Best Price’ link that offers Google ads going off to competitors.  Do the likes of HSBC, Nationwide, LV etc. not watch out for this sort of thing?     Clearly not.    There are several losers here:

  1. The companies (HSBC etc.) whose names are being used to attract people to click on the adverts of competitors.
  2. The Google advertisers who are getting impressions on their adverts but probably low, or irrelevant clicks because they’re not targeted enough.
  3. The website visitor who feels conned and thinks only that believe this is a good strategy.

Taking point 3 above, that could be the case.  Maybe are doing nicely out of the clicks they get on those adverts that appear.  But it does make a mockery out of their strapline of ‘Never Choose the Wrong Financial Product Again’ when the website acts in such a deceptive way.

It could well be that the website has a lot more going for it but from a personal viewpoint I have no trust in the website and it also makes me even more keen to steer away from big brands (such as those allowing their names to be used in that way) because they clearly have money to burn and I’d rather see my money go to someone who can give the personal touch if I want something like critical illness insurance.

Personalising testimonials with pictures

Website Accuracy, Website Development 3 Comments

Aegon are a big company. 28,000 employees serving 40 million customers big.  With that many employees you’d think it would be hard to get something wrong on the website.

The screenshot below is taken from the page, which is a case study supposed to get across the message that a customer found it easy to make a claim when their wife died.   The implication is that the man in the photo is the same man who wrote the comment (after all, why would you show a picture of someone else next to something that’s so personal?) …

It’s perfectly feasible that the picture is of the man concerned but if you look at the properties of the picture it’s named as ‘man_portrait.jpg’.  Not Bill Smith, Jack Johnson or anything like that – purely ‘man_portrait.jpg’ – almost as if it was stock photography and not the real person.

It’s feasible that Aegon fully intended to put a male picture there, just to add something to the comment but surely that’d be ‘wrong’ when the testimonial is about something so personal.

There’s a great tool called TinEye ( which lets you input the url of an image, or the page that it’s on and it’ll go off and see if that image pops up anywhere else.  And sure enough, here’s what it came up with:

… which includes a link to Getty Images and the page, which is a royalty-free site.  It’s certainly not a cheap image to buy and perhaps that’s why Aegon used it (so that it wasn’t so obviously a stock image as it wouldn’t show up in many places) but surely they’d realise that some (pedantic) person would find it?

There’s another case study on that site at the page  This time, a woman looking surprisingly upbeat considering supposedly being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis …

That image, called ‘woman_portrait.jpg’ also appears elsewhere as TinEye unveils below …

There are a couple of points worth making here …

  1. If you’re going to use testimonials and link pictures to them then tread carefully.  I only looked up those pictures because they didn’t seem ‘right’ linked to the comments on those Aegon pages.   This makes me automatically think that not just the images have been fabricated but that the testimonial comments may not be genuine either.
  2. If you’re considering using images on a website then it’s maybe worth using a site such as TinEye to see where else they appear.  There’s an image that I refer to only as ‘reception girl’ because she seems to pop up everywhere on websites, which confirms that those websites may not actually have such people ready to take calls (which we sort of know anyway!).   You can while away hours putting images into TinEye just to see where else they appear but to make life easier, they have a page of goodies ( that lets you plug it in to your browsers.

Tommy’s Blog – 2 months into Custwin

Life at Custwin No Comments

Here’s Tommy’s update on his view of life within Custwin, having survived two months to date …

I’ve now been doing my apprenticeship at Custwin for a little over 2 months, and things are really starting to progress. This month I attended my second ‘First Friday’ networking event. It was much busier this week, probably because the news spread that I was going to be there, but perhaps also because Andy was doing a presentation on Custwin and what we do.

After being humiliated during the presentation, I got the chance to meet new people from different businesses, and get to know their backgrounds and what they’re currently doing. Thankfully everyone had good things to say about the presentation Andy gave, and disappointingly remembered his joke at my expense. In my opinion the event was an overall success; I met new people, and managed to pick up some nice looking business cards from various people.

Another new(ish) experience I’ve had recently is being a part of social media. Of course, as most people do, I already have a Facebook account, but it’s quite different when you’re socialising from a business viewpoint rather than a personal view. I recently signed up to Twitter (@tommycustwin), and have found that it is a great way to business mingle/socialise with people within your area that share your interests, and it’s a great way of meeting new people. I’ve found that through people’s ‘tweets’ I am able to find great tips and free advice, and be able to share the same to the people that follow me. Although I do feel like a little bit of a stalker for following people I haven’t met, I do gain a lot from it, and I recommend using social media to anyone working within a business.

Another social marketing site that I’m now signed up to is LinkedIn.  I’d never heard of it before, but I’ve found it’s an amazing way to gain new connections, and you’re able to join groups to see what other people/companies are doing in your area. Although LinkedIn seems like a social networking site for people in business, you still get the odd suspicious person that you don’t know requesting to be your friend.

Costs of .ng domain names – Nigeria goes legit?

Online Reputation Management No Comments

When you think of scams, particularly those online, various countries spring to mind, Nigeria being one of them.  It’s a shame that the actions of some can end up tarnishing the reputation of a country overall.   Ask many people what they think when you say the word ‘Nigeria’ and unfortunately, ‘scams’ will be a common answer.

This made it interesting to read the Nigerian approach to their new top level domain .ng because they’ve taken the decision to charge (according to around 500,000 Nigerian Naira per year, which works out at over £2,000.  So while people like Google have bought and Microsoft have bought, for the majority of people the cost is prohibitive.

In addition, NIRA (who control the domains) have a strict policy on domain name squatting, which means that it’d be made really hard for someone to buy a juicy/gimmicky domain and then sell it on.  For example, if someone bought then NIRA could take the domain away from the buyer if there was suspicion that the intention was to sell it on at a higher price.

Understandably there’s quite a lot of interest in securing .ng domains because there are so many potential uses.  For example, a website dedicated to, a company involved in, or a website dedicated to   And then there’s the porn industry who could have a field day (I’ll leave you to work those ones out!).

What was most interesting to me though was the complete contrast between the historical negative slant to Nigeria (scams) and this positive one (charging a high registration fee and having a strict policy on domain squatting, so that it should deter those who want to take advantage).   Of course, I suppose it could also be a licence to print money (charging high costs for domains ending in .ng) but for now, it sends out a message that at least in part, ‘brand Nigeria’ is going to gain some positive PR.

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