What PPC enquiries may tell us about the economy

Google Adwords 1 Comment

Anyone can set up a Google Adwords account.   But the system allows most people to ‘get it wrong’ and the end result is wasted budget.

We’ve been noticing an interesting pattern – we’ve been seeing a gradual increase in ‘from cold’ enquiries from companies needing help with their PPC campaigns.   We have a Google Adwords account but it’s not something we make a lot of use of.  It’s been the same campaign for a long time now (years) and, being as busy as we are, we’ve not found it necessary to boost it up in any way.    But things started changing over recent months …

It started with the odd enquiry each week coming in via the PPC campaign, then starting to increase to be more frequent.  It’s now at the point where 5 enquiries have been gained in the past week.  From speaking to those enquirers the message is the same every time:

“We’ve got an Adwords campaign but it’s costing a lot of money for results that aren’t good”.

Putting aside the fact that many of the enquirers websites weren’t strong enough, there will be issues with the actual PPC campaigns.  Nine times out of ten there are the same old mistakes being made.   Where it becomes interesting though is when people say that they’ve had their PPC campaigns running for long periods of time but it’s only now that they want to do something about it.   I call this the ‘economy effect’, which is worth explaining more …

People in business use a range of marketing methods and while business is good or trickling in, they’re reasonably happy because they’re surviving.  However, when other external factors kick in, they become more aware.   The economy is suffering and people have less money to spend.  They may click on PPC adverts but in more cases they’re not in a position to buy at that stage.  They may also be searching in lower numbers and so the PPC adverts don’t get as many clicks as in the past.  The end result is that the company who is suffering from lower levels of business, starts to look at their marketing and so PPC, being a particular cost, is usually high on the list to focus on.

In short, their perception is that their PPC campaign isn’t working.   In most cases that’s true, and things can be fixed to make those campaigns much more effective, but the reality is that their PPC campaign has been underperforming for some time but it just wasn’t so noticeable until the impacts of the economic woes started to have a knock-on effect.

It’ll be interesting to see if we continue to get these enquiries from companies that aren’t getting the results they need from their PPC because it would appear, based on recent weeks and months, that the tougher the economy gets, the more companies are looking at what they’re gaining from their marketing investment.

44 seconds … and then more … to new business

Customer Service, Website Strategy No Comments

I thought I’d share with you a story of what it can take to win a new client via your website and how different potential clients think …

Custwin runs a Google Adwords campaign for ourselves.  We don’t go over the top (because it’s not the most cost-effective way to generate leads in our sector) but one phrase we consistently get website visitors for is the phrase ‘google advertising’.   When people type that phrase into Google they see an advert which takes them through to our Custwin Gold (http://www.custwin.co.uk/custwin-gold.htm) page – a page that lets people get a quick insight into the service offered but also to dig into a lot more depth.

While some people spend a lot of time looking at that page, others, like the contact we received late last week, don’t.   The screenshot below shows that they had spent only 44 seconds on the website before they made contact:

We know for sure that the company that contacted us had contacted others (they told us in our initial conversation).  We also knew that they couldn’t possibly have got a full feeling about how we help companies (because they didn’t spend long enough on the page).   Therefore, we were basically in a position of ‘opportunity to impress’ (compared to competitors).

Fortunately, we always put a lot of time into potential clients and a series of emails over the following days resulted (yesterday) in the client emailing us those lovely words …

“If you are free for a chat, I will like to confirm everything and go ahead with your service.”

The point of sharing this is that although a website can have everything in it that you think a potential client will be interested in, people are busy and they will (quite rightly) have a quick look around at who can help, not spending much time on the websites, but will then get a ‘feel’ based on the dialogue from that point onwards.

I’ll admit, it’s not a 5 minute job to convert such enquiries into business.  Sometimes it takes about an hour of extra effort/focus and often much longer.   I like to think that we’ve got a powerful proposition that’s still quite unusual in the ‘web consultancy’ world (god, that sounds like a sales pitch!) because our focus is not just on driving traffic to websites but ensuring that the websites are strong enough to convert that traffic into enquiries/business.   This comes across very strongly in our follow up to initial enquiries and is key to our success in converting enquiries into business.

So what’s the message here?   Quite simply, a website still needs to be strong because some people will go into every detail before considering making contact, BUT, some people don’t spend long on websites and judge potential suppliers based on the follow up to initial enquiry.   Therefore, it’s always worth analysing how well ‘follow up’ activity contributes towards business being gained.   We’ve had clients that have actually shared with us some of the other responses they gained and we can see how ‘standard’ and lame many of them were.

How many potential buyers of YOUR product/service have been in contact with your competitors as well as you, and how strongly does your follow-up communication convert into business?    Please do contact us in confidence – we’d be happy to provide you with some pointers for free.

The Census 2011 – Changing the law

Website Strategy No Comments

“Your census response is required by law” it shouts out from the envelope supplied with the 2011 National Census.

It took me about 30 minutes to complete the census (doing it online, I’d imagine it can take longer on the paper version) and I felt obliged to do it because of the ‘required by law’ message.   But it made me think … maybe it’s about time the law changed?

I don’t mean changing the law about completing the census but the law in other ways.  Perhaps it should be law to do, and confirm as having done, the following:

  • Having a full and updating business plan.
  • Having a constant cashflow projection.
  • Listing a minimum number of client testimonials (verified) on your website.
  • Analysing website statistics using a recommended system.
  • Testing different forms of marketing on a small scale.

There could be others but each of those above can have a marked and positive impact on the businesses that would have to (by law) go through them.   How many people manage to find the time to focus on such activities as those above?   Speaking purely about the website-related activities we feel people/companies should be obliged to do (to make them stronger), it’s insanity that people don’t take the time out to focus on them.

And yet, a document comes through the letter box that says it has to be completed by law and everyone takes that time out to complete it.   Wouldn’t it be fascinating if instead, people had the option (by law of course) to dedicate just that 30 minutes or so to undertaking some activities that would properly benefit their businesses – how much more of a positive impact would that have on the economy as a whole, than collecting a load of statistics for people to pore over for centuries to come?

Costs and pricing on websites

Website Strategy No Comments

I’ve realised that there’s a subject that I often talk to people about but haven’t dedicated a blog to so far.  That’s the thorny subject of costs and pricing on websites.

Some types of websites (i.e. those that sell something directly) have prices clearly on display but for many business types it’s considered not important to show prices.  Those who know me will be bored of what I refer to as being ‘boot fair mentality’ …

Two stallholders are next to each other at a car boot fair and they are selling identical products.  The only difference between them is that one has everything priced up and the other has no prices.

100 people pass the stalls and they’re all interested in something.  Of those 100 people, a minority will be the type that are happy to ask prices and to haggle.  Let’s say that’s 20% to be on the generous side.

The majority of those 100 people though would fall into one of the following camps:

1.    They wouldn’t ask the price of the items on the ‘no prices’ stall because they don’t want the embarrassment of the price quoted not matching what they’re prepared to pay.

2.    On principle they wouldn’t ask the price of the items on the ‘no prices’ stall because they think the stall holder is trying to hide something from them.

3.    They would never buy anything if the prices weren’t on clear display.

I’d suggest that perhaps 80% of those 100 people would fall into the three areas described above.  The numbers don’t matter – it’s the concept of ‘boot fair mentality’ – people often won’t ask the prices of something because they feel that the prices should be made more visible to them.

If you go to the Custwin site you’ll see that all the prices of services are very clear and yes, we get enquiries because of that.  People make a judgement call on whether the price is good for the service that they need.

So why is it that so many websites, particularly in the services sector, decide to hide the pricing structures?   Some say to me: “we don’t want our competitors to see what we charge”, to which the answer is “and therefore, your potential clients also won’t know and will go elsewhere”.  Others think it’ll scare people off.  That can happen but if the website makes it very clear that previous buyers have got a strong return on what they invested in, then ‘scaring off’ shouldn’t be a concern.

There are numerous reasons that people give but it’s flawed reasoning.  Any business should take the attitude of:

“This is what we supply/do and this is what it costs you.  We believe that you are getting a good deal for that price and we have plenty of evidence that previous customers have been happy”.

There are also other ways to package pricing – for example, instead of giving a direct cost, use case studies to show how much particular work cost the client (where this can be disclosed of course) and what the return on investment was.  Back that up with a positive testimonial from the client.

It’s amusing that many in the world of marketing think it’s really clever to try and entice people into websites with freebie offers (e.g. free reports), aiming to get their contact details so that they can then take them through a process of upsell, but never saying what the actual costs of the service or product will be.   So many people won’t bother with the freebie if they aren’t given an idea of eventual costs and while there will always be some who buy, having gone through a process, the numbers will be small in comparison to what would happen if the website was more upfront about what the eventual costs would be.  In my view, it’s an antiquated way of trying to sell and people are fast becoming wise to it.

Whatever excuse you may have for not putting pricing on your company website, it may be worth you reconsidering, and certainly to ask around for people’s opinions (yes, please, ask mine too – it’ll cost you nothing but you sort of already know what I’ll say).  You sell what you sell and you should stick to your guns.   If your website statistics imply that people aren’t buying, even with pricing on display, then you will benefit from digging deeper into other reasons why your website may be letting you down because the pricing may not be the main issue they have.

From Web 2.0 to Me 1.0

Website Strategy No Comments

Internet developments happen at a blistering pace.  What worked in SEO awhile ago may not work now.   What would ‘work’ on a website in the past is no longer effective.  If the Internet plays any important part in our lives, we have to evolve with it.

There’s an area of thinking that’s particularly interesting and it revolves around the concept that ‘The Internet is broken’.  What that means is that everything on the Internet currently seems to revolve around websites when perhaps it should actually revolve around us as individuals.   If you’re on Facebook you may see people who you also know on LinkedIn but you’re locked in to the proprietary website and there’s no bridge between your contact on one site and the same contact on another site.

Something called CTML (contextual markup language) is likely to become more visible in time.  Put simplistically, it would allow each person to control all data about themselves and use it in any way that they want to.

So, for example, if I’m buying a house I may have to give certain information to the estate agent and also parts of that same information, and perhaps some extra information (personal to me) to the bank.   Currently I would have to fill out forms/share information twice (once to the estate agent and once to the bank) – what a waste of time!   With CTML I would have a ‘who’ tag, which is a tag personal to me and I can quickly share standard and non-standard data related to ‘me’ with anyone I want to, electronically.     The estate agent validates who I am and they get the data they need from me.  The bank does the same and also gets data from me.   All very easy.

I’m not an expert on the intricate details of how this would work but there is a very good video that you can invest 18 minutes of your time in at http://www.youtube.com/user/TEDxAustin#p/c/37D1E4A8FE21352C/7/afMjZgvtsp8.  There are also a few videos and information to run through on the page http://cloudinc.org/, which help to explain things a bit more.

So what’s all this got to do with the Custwin line of business?  This sort of stuff is ages off from happening, if it happens at all.   But it’s likely to happen – the concept of there being a ‘Web 3.0’ appears to be weak in comparison to there being a ‘Me 1.0’, or perhaps they’d run side by side.   It’s important stuff though, as the following hypothetical example hopefully demonstrates …

It’s X years in the future and CTML becomes a reality and people have the ability to have their own ‘who’ tag that contains all sorts of personal data about them.   An enabled person is looking to buy widgets and they go to two websites.   One website asks them to input all their personal details, in a way that we’re familiar with now but by the future, will be old fashioned.  The other website allows the person to use their ‘who’ tag to connect in and within seconds they’ve bought what they want.

Things aren’t much different nowadays – there are so many websites that haven’t moved with the times and are losing business, whereas their competitors are stronger.   By the time those websites catch up with their competitors those competitors will have moved with the times and be capitalising on what’s new (e.g. ‘who’ tags).

The wake-up call in 2011 is to those companies with websites that are underperforming now, but that show no signs of advancing.  If they don’t advance at least a bit then by the time that new technologies, such as the concept of a ‘who’ tag, appear, there’ll be a mountain too big to climb.

So what’s the answer?  It’s easy – all website owners should be actively looking at their competitors websites and identifying elements that are strong, and should be implementing actions, slow though they may be, to take things forward a step at a time.  At least this way when something big comes along, steps in the right direction (and mindset) have already been made.

Why tracking enquiries saves £thousands

Online Advertising, Website Strategy 1 Comment

I had a conversation with someone today that went along the lines of …

Them: “We’re going to start asking enquirers how they found out about us”

Me: “That’s good – what’s prompted that?”

Them: “We think that Yellow Pages, the Phone Book, and other directories aren’t bringing us enough enquiries compared to the investment, so are thinking of cutting them down”

Me: “How long have you been advertising in places like Yellow Pages?”

Them: “At least the last 8 years”.

Me: [Stunned Silence]

It’s a common occurrence – companies use various forms of marketing but aren’t keeping records of how many enquiries originate from each source of marketing.  So, the person I was talking with has no idea which marketing expenditure, over several years, had been gaining them enquiries.

The good thing for them is that they’re going to start measuring it – but only at a point in time where things seem to be tight for them and they’ve now got to get the most out of their marketing budget.

People in business generally have a good ‘feel’ for where their enquiries originate from but often don’t keep formal records.  However, even when formal records are kept, people don’t record the full picture – for example, someone may record an enquiry as being ‘website’ when it may actually have been any of:

  • Search from a search engine (such as Google)
  • Link in from a directory to the website (e.g. Yell.com)
  • Direct entry of a url into the browser
  • Link in to the site from something social media (e.g. a Tweet)
  • Printed materials containing the website address
  • Link from another website

So it’s important to be specific in recording enquiries that are gained.   I hope that the following process is useful …

1. Create a spreadsheet containing the following key columns:

  • Date (of enquiry)
  • Time (of enquiry)
  • Source (of enquiry)
  • Description (rough details of what the enquiry was about)
  • Other details that are useful to record (name of the person, email address etc.)
  • When using the ‘Source’ column, use specific phrases (e.g. Google, Yell.com, Newspaper advert) or better still, create a column for each source of enquiries so that a ‘Y’ can be put in the appropriate column each time an enquiry is gained.

2.  Ensure that all customer-facing staff are committed to completing the enquiries log.  It may be easier to have a Google Doc created that everyone can access.  Someone though should take responsibility for ensuring that all enquiries are being recorded.

3. On a periodic basis (monthly is typical), analyse the enquiries gained and assess which enquiries came from each source.

If one source doesn’t seem to be performing, don’t necessarily stop using that form of marketing – there could be various factors that contribute to it not generating enquiries.  For example, many people have found that “PPC advertising doesn’t work”.  In reality it turns out that it’s either the PPC campaign setup that’s inefficient or the website itself isn’t strong enough to convert clicks to enquiries.

In the same way that a company should be regularly checking on the business finances, enquiries logging and analysis should also be a regular activity, which will usually lead to further actions that are beneficial.

If you aren’t recording details of where enquiries came from then your ability to assess return on marketing investment is significantly reduced, which means that you could be wasting £thousands on underperforming marketing.

GIGO – Garbage In Garbage Out

Website Analytics, Website Development, Website Strategy No Comments

30 years ago I learnt about GIGO.  It meant ‘Garbage In Garbage Out’ and it was a phrase used in my computer studies lessons at school.  What it basically meant was that if you put garbage data into the computer then you’d get garbage out.

I consider myself lucky that I was one of the first batch of pupils to get hands on computers within the brave new world of computer studies within schools.   I soon learnt that if you put enough effort into what you were doing on the computer then you’d get rewards.   As an example, when I’d done something bad at school I was given a punishment of writing lines so I put extra effort into writing the computer programme that would generate my lines for me.  It was a first in our school – punishment lines created by a computer programme, and I got away with it (whereas the next kid who copied my idea got double punishment for not being innovative).  For me, the effort put into writing that programme correctly produced the right result out of the computer.

Fast forward 30 years and GIGO is more applicable than ever.  The difference is that the situation is worse because ‘computers’ (read: websites in particular) make it extremely easy to put anything you want in and things may look fine to you.   So, you create a page on your website – the computer thinks:

“That’s fine”.

But in reality, what you’ve created is garbage from a human perspective.   Let’s say that you’ve created a website page that gives details about your products or services, but you’ve not included any reference to costs.  The computer (website) doesn’t tell you that you’ve put ‘garbage’ in (promoting products and services without giving an idea of costs is insanity) and the end result is garbage on display for all to see.

I laugh when I hear people say words to the effect of “my website is rubbish, it gains me no business”.   I silently nod in agreement when I see the websites because the GIGO principle has been applied – people putting content into websites that they think is right but in reality it’s garbage from the perspective of the potential buyer who is looking at the website.

Is the word ‘Garbage’ too harsh?  After all, most websites that underperform have had some effort put into them so it may seem a bit much to brand them as being ‘garbage’.  I think that’s a fair word to use though because it’s quite strong and is basically saying “if your website isn’t getting you results then parts of it are probably being viewed as ‘garbage’ by your potential customers, which means that something is wrong”.

Online prize draws – make them worth entering

Email Communications 1 Comment

I recently received an email invite from WHSmith trying to entice me into joining their community of consumers ‘who share their attitudes and opinions about WHSmith to help us to continuously improve’.  The full email is below …

In exchange for me completing a short survey about myself I get entered into a prize draw and have the option to collect cash rewards for future surveys I complete.  The prize, on the surface, is tempting (an iPad or £500 Gift Card) but the chances of winning are not.

I wonder how many hundreds of thousands a similar email has gone to?   What would be my actual chance of winning the prize?   While I’m sure that WHSmith will get numerous people signing up, I wonder how many they’ll be losing out on because people will think “what’s my chance of winning that prize?”.

WHSmith are not a small company – they can afford to offer more in the way of prizes.  Surely it would have made more sense to offer a ‘big prize’ but also a series of other prizes.    Suppose they had the top ‘£500’ prize, 10 x £100 value prizes, 20 x £50 value prizes, 40 x £25 value prizes, and 50 x £10 value prizes.   Their expenditure would go up to £4,000 but people would work out that they now have 121 chances to win something and so are much more likely to buy in to joining their surveys database.

WHSmith have attempted to give people an extra carrot via the Cash Rewards system, which gives people rewards that they can redeem through PayPal every time they complete a survey:

However, the email is quite vague about how much people earn each time they complete a survey – all it commits to is ‘these can be redeemed through PayPal every time you reach £4 or more’.  So, do you get £1 per survey? 50p? 10p?.   It’s not clear, and so isn’t enticing enough.   Taking a wild guess (obviously, I’ve not signed up to join their surveys so can’t say), let’s say it’s 25p per survey completed.  If it takes 5 minutes to complete a survey then that values my time at 25p x 20 = £5 per hour.   While I accept that there are many people who are serial survey completers/competition entrants, which helps them fund aspects of their lives, I’m guessing that the majority of people receiving that email will think:

1.    What chance have I got to win that one prize?

2.    How much would I get paid per survey I complete, and how long would it take per survey?

And the end result of that is probably people at WHSmith scratching their heads thinking “hmmm, the signup rate from the email promotion wasn’t as good as we hoped for”.   If they’re a proactive organisation they’ll have Google Alerts set up to pick up on when people are talking about them so maybe they’ll pick up on this blog and think more deeply about what they offer in future.

Where’s the relevance of this to the majority of readers, who will be in organisations much smaller than WHSmith?   If you’re offering a prize draw (either online or offline) then think about what will be going through the minds of those who you’re targeting – will they be wondering what the odds are of winning?   Would they be more likely to enter if you had not just one main prize, but also a selection of other prizes?   Perhaps tell them how many people you anticipate will enter the prize draw – it may give them more reason to enter (e.g. “we’re expecting to get about 500 people entering this prize draw so there’s a good chance of you winning”).

And as always, when considering offering a prize draw, before launching, always get as many opinions (colleagues, friends, family) as possible, to see whether what you’re offering is really going to get people entering.

Google Ads – when money means more than accuracy

Google Adwords No Comments

If you type a phrase into Google you generally expect to get back search results that are useful to you.  When considering the paid adverts, you expect even more accuracy.   Unfortunately, Google thinks it’s more important for it to make money than to give the searcher the right experience.  Let’s look at what appears when you type ‘spa deals Canterbury’ into Google …

While many people will ignore the ads in the shaded area, and those on the right-hand-side, they wouldn’t ignore them so much if the adverts appeared to be particularly relevant.  If you scan over those adverts (shaded area plus right hand-side) you’ll see that only one refers to Kent and none refer to Canterbury.

If you click on the top advert it takes you to this page within the Groupon site.  That page doesn’t refer to Canterbury but does give you a ‘Your city’ pull-down to select from, as you can see in the screenshot below.  However, Canterbury isn’t in that list …

Feeling cheated, you go back to the search results and you see the next link down that goes to livingsocial.   It doesn’t actually refer to Canterbury but you think it may be worth trying as you think “surely Google wouldn’t allow an irrelevant advert to be displayed?”  When you click through you see no reference to Canterbury, even when you navigate to the UK options, as shown in the screenshot below …

And so it goes on – you could click through various other paid ads displayed and not find what you wanted (a spa deal in the Canterbury area).

This is where Google’s greed and lack of customer focus becomes very apparent.

IF you were a spa in the Canterbury area, and wanted to be visible (in the paid ads) under the phrase ‘spa deals Canterbury’ then you would be expected (by Google) to offer a high cost per click in order to be displayed amongst the top adverts.   From an advertisers point of view you’d hope that the Google system would connect the following three factors together and so it would display your advert higher than those that are not delivering the best experience to the searchers:

1.       Your keyword phrase is ‘spa deals Canterbury’.

2.       Your advert includes the words ‘spa’ and ‘Canterbury’.

3.       The landing page of your website is clearly relevant to the search phrase.

But Google doesn’t think like that.  Instead it thinks “All these other advertisers want to be highly visible under various phrases related to spa deals or Canterbury, and they’re prepared to pay high costs per click to be made visible.  They are worth more money to Google than a small advertiser with a highly relevant advert/website, so we’ll make that small advertiser offer high costs per click if they want to appear amongst the other adverts”.

One day Google will wonder why their paid advertising results are decreasing.  They will maybe realise that one reason is that they’ve made two horrendous mistakes over the years:

  1. They’ve displayed adverts that aren’t closely enough aligned to the phrases that people searched for (so people don’t click on the adverts).
  2. They’ve not made it easier for smaller advertisers to have their more focused adverts displayed higher than less relevant adverts.  Therefore, the smaller advertisers will find other ways to promote their businesses.

When the day comes that Google announce decreases in paid advertising revenues, it’ll be a great day indeed.  It will demonstrate that they have little concept of what advertisers and searchers are looking for, by which time so many advertisers will have gone down the social media route, including, in many cases, migrating across to getting better results via the Bing/Facebook alliance.

Are jobs being wasted on unproductive employees?

Website Analytics No Comments

Tommy Dellar, who never wastes time on the computer of course, gives us some insights into one of the reasons why workplace productivity is not as it should be …

With the current climate of unemployment being so high in the UK, could it be that jobs are being wasted on people that are more focused on their own needs than those of the employers who pay them?

Custwin uses website statistics analysis software which enables us to identify organisations that have been visiting our clients’ websites; and whilst going through my weekly analysis of website visitors for clients, I often find that searches are being made by people within companies/organisations, that are clearly related to their personal needs.   While every organisation will have an acceptable use policy (for personal use of the Internet), often limited to lunch breaks, there’s plenty of evidence that people bend those rules.   For example, as can be seen below, someone working for Lloyds TSB has somehow managed to find the time to do some research into planning a holiday, whilst at work …

It may be that the person was on their lunch break, and just having a quick look at what offers are around, but who wastes their lunch break stuck in the office, when you can be out getting a fast food takeaway or some fresh air and having a quick smoke?

Holidays are just one example of what people are looking for at work.  Our wide range of client industries show us several different types of website searches.    To add a further example, every week I find visits from people within organisations searching for various types of insurance.  Sometimes that’s genuinely linked to the employer needing insurance but often not.  The screenshot below shows someone working at Buckinghamshire County Council has been doing their research on “family fleet car insurance companies”. …

I’m aware that the council supply many services, and help the public with a lot of issues within their area, but finding insurance for people was a service I didn’t know they supplied.

I don’t know if it’s just me being excessively passionate about what I do for work (I have to say that, my boss sees the blogs!), or if I’m just being a spoilsport, but when you’re at work, surely you’re meant to work?  Taking that second example above, with the unemployment level getting higher, and the amount of pot holes, graffiti and general county issues the council have to deal with, surely the employees must have something to be getting on with that’s more beneficial to the county than searching for family fleet car insurance?

Those are just two small examples out of so much more we see every day in our work.  While it’s beneficial for our clients to get those visits to their websites, from people searching online for their personal requirements, we wonder how much of an impact the totals of ‘lost productivity’ are having on the effectiveness of UK businesses and organisations.

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