Tag Archives: web traffic

How Your Website can Handle Emergency Announcements

School Flooding Announcement on Website - what happens if the website crashes?
Flooding Announcement on a School Website – what happens if the website crashes?

Major General Patrick Sanders, assistant chief of the UK defence staff, who is currently coordinating the armed forces’ response to the UK floods has described the damage as an “almost unparalleled natural disaster”.

I listened to the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning (a treat that I rarely enjoy now that I cycle to work – and only heard it today because I took my brother-in-law to the airport), and the presenters were speaking to various spokesmen from train companies and utilities around the country.

I’ve recently been speaking to a number of not-for-profit organisations about their digital platforms. Digital is key to these organisations because it provides a direct-to-consumer communication channel (although they each have different terms for consumers) which is far cheaper than previous methods. The commercial sector which recognised this advantage a few years ago.

One specific question which keeps being raised it how to deal with emergencies announcements.

Commercials organisations can often afford robust platforms and fault tolerance because the increased digital traffic from mobile apps and websites usually translates into extra revenue or improved customer service.

However, if you are a school and want to let parents know whether the school is open today or not because of flooding, snow or other natural problems, it’s unlikely the school will be compensated for the added digital traffic. Many UK schools offer a text messaging service to parents to let them know if the school is open or not, but still they receive huge web traffic from concerned parents.

Additional web traffic can often cause website issues. There are a number of methods to ease this high web traffic, most of which are free to use. Continue reading How Your Website can Handle Emergency Announcements

Hugh Jackson, director of MediaCo on Venice and Panda

Almost to reconfirm how I described how the first morning at ad:tech had been full of

It's a sobering thought that on some searches the 3rd result is below the fold!
It’s a sobering thought that on some searches the 3rd result is below the fold!

practical tips and advice, Hugh Jackson from MediaCo, an SEO company, gave a good, practical presentation on two of the latest Google algorithm changes and how to take advantage of them, despite all the bad press they’ve received.

The two algorithm changes are Panda and Venice.


Results are now based upon the local results of where the user is located. (My Note: Actually, they’ve always been local, so if you searched for ‘Spurs’ in the UK you’d end up with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, and if you searched for Spurs in the US you’d see the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. Now, results are localise for everything, down to a far more granular level).

So if you type in say, tyre dealer, you’ll get very different results if you’re based in New York, London or Manchester.

This is the only way results are ranked organically (i.e. not paying for an ad in the results) for generic terms.

To take advantage of Venice, you need to create truly unique content for your user’s locations. National companies without local offices are at a disadvantage.

The SEO strategy to take advantage of Venice is to create landing pages and change the site structure to reflect localised pages. The example Hugh gave is Autotrader, which now has regions, and then local cities where car results are displayed for that local city or region.

The tried and tested SEO technique for Titles and Descriptions has been slightly updated, so you should now use:

Title + location + brand

for AutoTrader, the example given was:

Find used cars in Manchester – used cars | Autotrader

Also, inbound links should ideally include the location in the anchor text, although Hugh pointed out that Google sometimes perform U-turns on best practice for inbound links.

Other techniques to improve natural results include having local reviews, directions to the location, a local address for the business, and a local phone number. These are recommendations though, not necessities.

Finally, put your local addresses in the site schema.


It's [almost] always about content, content, content...
It’s [almost] always about content, content, content…
Panda uses real world, human user data to verify the quality of sites. So a site that simply provides links to other sites, and users spend a very short period of time browsing, will be hit hard by Panda. This real user data comes from Google +, Chrome usage stats and toolbars.

Use google.com/trends and adwords.google.co.uk/keywordplanner to help with your SEO terms.

You can now have a page with little text, perhaps just a couple of sentences, followed by a video, and this may perform well. The reason is that users will stay on the page (watching the video), and this gets fed back to Google, who then interpret this as a sign of a real user finding the page interesting. This is very different to previous SEO techniques where keywords were the most important SEO consideration.

To create inbound links, Hugh recommended that you create Infographics and distribute these to other websites, making sure you have credit for the work, through good quality anchor text.

It’s important to ‘announce’ new content by promoting it on social networks – Twitter, Google+ and Facebook for example. This builds authority and will help develop you as a thought leader and people will link to your page.

Another good technique, which Google has been vocal about, is to attribute content to a particular person by linking to their Google + page.

And finally, it’s a sobering thought that on some search results such as ‘Manchester United’, the 3rd result is already below the fold!

The real value

Of course, Panda and Venice are details. The main reason why natural searches are still so important is because when a user performs a search on Google (or Bing, or any other search engine) and arrives at your website, the chances are that you have a genuinely and fully qualified lead!

See the other presentation notes from ad:tech.

Why the UK is still a nation of small shopkeepers, even on the web

The 10 most visited UK shopping sites ending August 24, 2013 according to Retail Week magazine who use Hitwise, is shown below. As the table indicates, the market share is stable.

10 most visited UK shopping sites week ending August 24, 2013
10 most visited UK shopping sites week ending August 24, 2013

This table only shows half a story though, because the top 10 make up just under 40% of the total shopping web sites. The following pie chart shows those top 10 as a pie chart along with the missing 60%.

Pie chart for 10 most visited UK shopping sites week ending August 24, 2013
Pie chart for 10 most visited UK shopping sites week ending August 24, 2013

Even this pie chart doesn’t show the full story though, because Hitwise should really aggregate the sites together – i.e. all the Amazon and eBay sites. Gumtree are owned by eBay so if we aggregate this with eBay, we get the following chart.

Consolidated 10 most visited UK shopping sites week ending August 24, 2013
Consolidated 10 most visited UK shopping sites week ending August 24, 2013

More than a third of shopping web site traffic in the UK goes to these two US companies, and are then followed by Argos who have less than 2% of traffic. Perhaps this goes to show the UK is still a nation of small shopkeepers.

Mobile first? Don’t believe the hype

Designing websites has never been as difficult as it is at the moment, and it’s only going to get harder.

Think about this for a moment – people born since about the year 2000 are unlikely to have ever walked into a travel agent or mobile phone shop. They’re unlikely to have been inside a bank more than a couple of times in their lives. Couple this with more than 10% of the UK still haven’t used the Internet.

In Q2 2013, AOL earned a staggering $166m from dial up modems. It’s fair to take a decent chunk of that revenue and claim it’s from ‘forgotten direct debits’ (now here’s an irony: a quick search for forgotten direct debits produces some interesting reading from AOL which claims over 2.5m Britons are paying for services they no longer need!).

So we have this strange anomaly where the Internet is being used by teenagers who have grown up using web browsers before they could read and over 75 year olds who are just starting to use the Internet for the first time.

And then they’re the range of screens: from a small Blackberry screen to iOS and Android (my S4 feels closer in size to an iPad Mini than an iPhone) to tablets. These screens demand large contact areas for fingers to select rather than small target areas easy to access with a mouse. Then on to desktops, which have a wider array of sizes than ever before. At work I use a square monitor with a relatively small resolution but when I work from home I have a large widescreen monitor where some sites look really nice and some look like a size zero.

Responsive design isn’t always the answer. I spend time battling against the marketing wave which convinces clients into believing every website needs to be responsive, to fit large and small browsers, touchscreen and mouse driven.

But responsive isn’t the only option. Fire up the BBC website on a smartphone and you’ll see the mobile site which is a quicker and easier to use than a responsive design. And it really comes into its own when you have a weak signal and want the latest cricket or football scores. A responsive design would be slower to download and use than the excellent mobile site. For high traffic websites it also reduces the cost of bandwidth delivery.

As well as fighting the responsive design marketing wave, I’m also swimming against the tide with mobile first initiatives. Yes mobile is increasing, however there are still very significant numbers of users using desktops. And what happens when wearable technology takes off? Or if TV apps really become mainstream?

The answer to many of these questions is to make sure that any digital platform has a complete API to support all these output devices. This can help multiple teams develop user interfaces in parallel. It also helps store the ‘state’ where users switch devices.

The best in class example of this is Facebook. Open the Facebook app on your phone and you’ll see the number of notifications in your activity feed. Click on some of them. Then look at Facebook on a desktop and you’ll see the new number of notifications. It’s the way it should be, but still so many sites struggle with these concepts.

So while it’s currently the hardest it’s ever been to design user interfaces, there are some great examples out there of how to do this properly, just don’t get too sucked into all the marketing hype.

11 Dos and Don’ts of Website Optimisation


I went to an interesting conference yesterday hosted by Webtrends titled “Successful Site Optimisation with Webtrends”. The main topics were about multivariate testing, which doesn’t get most people’s pulse racing, but it was presented in an interesting way with lots of useful tips.

Multivariate testing is a natural next step up from A/B testing.

A/B testing is where you have two pages that do the same thing, and track which one gives better results, whether it’s increased registrations, higher click through rates or more revenue, etc. These two pages will run for a certain number of users or a time period, to give good comparisons. Think of it as having two large research group.

The problem with A/B testing is that these pages are usually fundamentally different, so it’s difficult to know which difference made users increase metrics on one page over another. Hence multivariate testing was born. Multivariate tweaks the ‘control’ page, subtly changing any of the following:

  • Content (copy)
  • Colours
  • Format
  • Page section behaviours (making whole section clickable, or just an image, or just the text next to an image)
  • Audience segmentation.

These multiple changes can run in parallel as long as they are measured correctly.

At the conference, Webtrends asked who in the audience show a different landing page for new users compared to returning users. It sounds obvious – if a user has already come to your site before, they probably know the basics, so show them more detail, or entice them to actually buy something on the second visit. Out of 60 people in the audience, only 4 companies said they show different pages for new and returning visitors, and one of those companies were MoneySupermarket.com who gave a case study later on.

To do multivariate testing, you need to develop a culture within the business to try different ideas. Most organisations want to design a single solution for web pages, and implement those. The concept of creating multiple designs, copy and user behaviours for each page is alien.

Multivariate testing also requires more people. At the minimum, you need the following:

  • Optimisation analyst
  • Creative specialist
  • Web develop
  • QA

As mentioned earlier, MoneySupermarket.com gave a case study of how they implement multivariate testing. Steve Willey from MoneySupermarket.com explained that they have 120 million visits a year, and 6.7 million individual customers. This gives them a large control group to test updates.

Steve spoke a lot about the optimisation culture within MoneySupermarket.com, which is vital to fight the subjective decisions that most organisations take with design and content. His key recommendations were:

  • Set objectives
  • Take small steps
  • Educate the rest of the business
  • Keep wowing stakeholders with results.

It took MoneySupermarket.com two years after the first A/B test before optimisation became cultural. The first test was to controversially remove a large amount of content from some pages which gave improved conversion results.

MoneySupermarket.com have an SEO expert in the optimisation team to ensure they don’t lose their top spot for most keywords. 

For new products, they always A/B test before launch. They always try to avoid new launches without any data of how well it will perform. Sample sizes are usually around 10% of the audience, giving pretty quick results to MoneySupermarket.com.

One of the things I noticed in a number of the case studies were how calls to action (e.g. the text on links and buttons) are more subtle rather than direct. For instance, ‘Next step’ worked better than ‘Book now’ on the sites.

The next speaker was Tom Waterfall from Webtrends. He gave 11 Dos and Don’ts of Site Optimisation:

  1. Do constantly test. Results only last for a certain period of time (e.g. during a sales campaign, perhaps with above-the-line support)
  2. Do make sure you have the right resources. Research from Forrester shows that the right resources will make the testing more successful.
  3. Do keep it simple. This reduces the risk internally and externally. It helps keep the test shorter and easier to analyse. Copy tends to have the most profound impact on visitors, and adding a chevron (>) helps. You can go into infinite detail about Add to cart buttons.
  4. Don’t forget to sell yourself on every page. Keep adding security information, free returns/ delivery/ service/ etc., and publish information about the amount of content, customers, products or even ‘Likes’ that your brand or products have.
  5. Do make use of other technologies, including analytics, insight database, eye tracking and heat maps.
  6. Do think about the audience. Tom gave a great example screenshot when he was looking to buy a pair of [men’s] shoes and the recommendations on the page included some women’s clothes. So have some recommendation rules to prevent these simple mistakes. Have a think about the audience based on their location, or the traffic source (where the user came from), their previous behaviour on your site, and if possible, demographic data.
  7. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Break the changes down from A/B testing to smaller multivariate tests. Try to test one thing at a time (although you can have multiple tests at one time, just not all on the same page). In summary, make sure you can analyse the results from your tests. And test each language separately – what works in one language probably won’t work the same in another.
  8. Do plan ahead. Have a long term plan of tests. As soon as one test has finished, start the next test, hence the need for a team, with a pipeline.
  9. Do think radical. Firstly, the more radical the changes, the bigger response you’ll get from users. MoneySupermarket.com sometimes push (or ignore) the corporate brand guidelines because they guidelines are sometimes subjective, and Steve’s team can prove that bending or changing the rules will give improved revenue.
  10. Do consider future trends. Tom recommended everyone should be testing on mobile, tablets and web, and on the first two formats, companies should be testing app and browser versions. Companies that took future trends into consideration more than two years ago stopped designing mouse hover over effects and lightboxes which don’t work well on touch devices.
  11. Do have fun with testing. Tom’s examples were a little lacking (read: corny!) here, so I’ll give an example of one of our customers a couple of years ago. The customer produced a mobile app, some tactical social media implementations, and a YouTube channel. All three were the first implementations of their type for this client. Everyone within the Endava and client team said what they thought would be the most successful initiative (and why), which gave us more ideas for each project.

The morning was a really good session, so thank you to Webtrends and MoneySupermarket.com for sharing so many useful tips for website optimisation.

Image courtesy of Mccormicky

Using Groupon and Quidco at Christmas


With so much industry news reported about Groupon, I was asked recently asked for my views on the Internet shopping/ deal site.

Firstly, I have been using a favourite deals site, Quidco, for several years, and this year Mrs H and I have done most of our Holiday shopping using the site, and earned a very nice cashback amount from the site. Quidco has a simple model – it uses the affiliate bounty that is a standard model across the Internet, and gives most of the money back to the end consumer (me) after taking £5 for the year.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of deals and voucher sites on the Internet. If you type in your favourite retailer followed by the word ‘voucher’ into Google, you’ll find an amazing number. Now click on them and chances are you’ll be presented with tens of expired vouchers. With voucher sites, it’s a case of quantity over quality.

Groupon has just turned three years old. It’s model is to offer a limited number of products and sell them to the first consumers who buy those products. After the ‘inventory’ has been sold, the offer is removed from the site. 

Deals discounts are usually in the 50-75% discount range. Its the retailer who offers the deals to Groupon, and Groupon takes a further commission in the product.

One of the issues that Groupon is facing is that not all retailers believe the deals are worth that level of discount. When Groupon started business three years ago, the aim was that buy generating a loss-leading sale, the consumer would like the service/ product so much that they would revisit the retailer later.

There are many flaws to Groupon’s business:

  1. It’s a highly competitive market that is very easy to imitate, as demonstrated above
  2. Retailers don’t really want to be part of Groupon’s world because the discounts are huge, and the commission to Groupon is a high part of the remaining amount (i.e. what the consumer will spend)

In November, Groupon turned three years old. It is now in 45 countries. It IPOd last month at $19 per share. A fortnight after floating the stock had halved in value, and is now back to $18.

Groupon’s Q3 2011 revenue was an impressive $430m. It hasn’t achieved a financial year in profit, although Q1-Q3 2011 it has made $22m profit. 

In Q3 2011 it made $8m – an unimpressive 1.86% profit. Groupon has a market capitalisation of $12bn. It’s actually quite amusing to go to Google Finance and look at other NASDAQ companies that have a capitalisation less than Groupon, yet earn a good profit.

I don’t see how Groupon’s business is sustainable because of the flaws, and I think we’ll see a trend of ‘lower value’ retailers on the site, which will mean less visitors come to the site and destroying its business model.

In summary, if you’re looking for bargains this Christmas, take a look at Groupon for some ideas. If you are looking to simply have some cashback without any fuss, I highly recommend Quidco. And if you’re looking for an investment opportunity, you should look a little deeper.

Photo courtesy of 401K on Flickr

How I would Yahoo!


So, apparently Yahoo! is up for sale, and even better, Google are willing to help fund it’s resurgence. This sounds so familiar – in 1997, Apple were having serious problems and Microsoft, their once main competitor, invested $150 million in the company, and now Apple is worth more than Microsoft!

Back to Yahoo!, it’s amazing how many people are so dismissive of Yahoo!’s (that’s a lot of punctuation) value.

Here are the high level stats:

Yahoo has over 500 million unique visitors each month, around the World, in over 30 languages.

In the UK alone, adults spend over 3 hours a month just on Yahoo! Mail.

To build that audience of 500 million would cost a HUGE amount of money (and time), so in my opinion there’s never been a better time to Yahoo! Stock is set at a very reasonable price, and Google are willing to invest a significant amount of money.

Here’s what I would do if I took over Yahoo! tomorrow:


  • An Internet content portal above all else. In terms of competition, Google provide mail to compete with Yahoo! Mail however there is no one with similar a traffic size which provides the level of content as Yahoo!
  • Generate a cost/revenue model for services such as Yahoo! Mail and Flickr to see if it’s worth selling these on or keeping them and reinvesting.
  • Create a cloud development service model to compete with the likes of Amazon and Microsoft – turning a cost centre into a profit centre


 Work out where my users are coming from – is it mainly from PC manufacturer-set-browser-homepages which haven’t been updated for 5 years? In fact, I’d probably do most of my initial work on the analysis of who uses the individual Yahoo! services to ascertain the users’ value, or even try to derive an ARPU (Average Revenue Per User).


Yahoo! strikes me as a company which is struggling to innovate. How many new services of note have their launched recently? I would look at why this has happened – have they all left to go to competitors? Internet companies need to have innovation at the centre of their philosophy, vision and corporate structure in order to keep users returning. I would reignite this passion for innovation immediately.

And finally, I think I’d rebrand Yahoo! to drop the exclamation mark! (Pun intended).


Why your web traffic is going to increase this summer

The next version of the Google Chrome browser will help speed up users’ web experiences by preloading the first result in the background.

If you are able to construct good Google search terms and often find you click on the first result, the new experience is going to save you several seconds per result.

If you manage a website which usually appears as the first result on Google searches, your traffic is about to substantially increase, because each of those pre-fetches is going to register a visit and a page impression. Google will offset this by offering a plugin to Google Analytics – great if you use Google, and it will be interesting to see how the other analytics providers will handle this.

10 years since joining


This time ten years ago I joined IMG as the Development Manager to build a new Content Management System.

The digital division within IMG was about four years old at that point, and had bought the digital rights to a number of sports organisations with the hope that the advertising and sponsorship on those sites would cover the costs of writing huge cheques to the sports organisations. ‘Hope’ is a strong word, because at the time the Internet bubble was at it’s height, and we all thought we’d be billionaires by Christmas.

When I joined, IMG was pulling out of a number of these deals, and looking for efficiencies with the tiny development teams.

The Internet was so different back then. Products were very expensive. Vendors and ‘experts’ were all learning as they were going along – so when we got stuck, we were well and truly on our own. For instance we tried different CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) to handle the huge amount of traffic we were experiencing, and ended up creating our own using Cacheflow servers. Just looking up the link just now made me laugh – because these boxes used to be the size of a fridge, and now they’re the size of a PC. Once we’d got the Cacheflows stable, we simply migrated to Akamai.

I remember people, including the CTO, would sleep in the office when we expected incidents to happen. I remember arguments with database vendors about licensing – some wanted to charge for every visitor that accessed the website, because they saw that as a database user. I remember running analytics reports on websites that used to take several days to compile, and when we wanted to run the report again with a different metric, all the numbers in the report would change! That same report in SiteCatalyst now takes a second to run and end users run it themselves.

Most of the really difficult stuff back in 2001 is now a commodity. Half of those products now have a freeware solution.

In around 2005/6 I moved to the client side – project management and operations. The CMS was very stable, and it was time to look at a decent off-the-shelf solution because we were losing pitches because of our lack of multi-lingual support, versioning, WYSIWYG editing and advanced SEO support.

We chose Sitecore as the CMS platform, and for the first time we looked at offshoring to India to migrate our sites. Three months of total pain followed. For the first time since joining IMG, we missed deadlines (in sport, although it sounds obvious you can’t miss deadlines – most of the time you might as well not deliver anything than deliver a project late). We pulled the projects back to the UK and an army of contractors joined the development team. Some were good, some weren’t. We started to offshore to Eastern Europe instead. And it was a revelation:

  • Being able to fly there and back in a day (not recommended, although possible and sometime necessary);
  • The cultural similarities; 
  • The push-back nature from developers on some of the requirements.

Then in late 2008 we looked to outsource more work to Romania via Endava. What started off at a simple outsourcing deal changed at the last moment, and the staff TUPEd over to Endava in January 2009.

Since then we’ve worked on some new projects outside of sport, and the Web has become a stable, maturing, controllable entity. In 2001 we were looking only to stabilise our clients’ sites.

Our traffic (bandwidth, visitors and page impressions) have all increased exponentially in ten years, with some exponentially, several times. Social Networks have come and some of them have gone. Do they compete? No, they simply direct more and more traffic to our clients’ sites.

And now to the future. In 2011 we are looking at providing data insights, personalised experiences, full integration with back off systems, and providing a true ROI for our client’s digital properties.

Are accountants being replaced by IT professionals?


Fifteen years ago the professionals who worked across an entire organisation were the accountants. My best man trained as an accountant, and I thought his university course was excellent – it taught all aspects of business, so that he would understand each function of an organisation from manufacturing to HR to marketing to IT to sales.

In the last five years, it’s now the IT professionals who work across the organisation. IT are invited into all aspects of the organisation. A new manufacturing plant needs to be kitted out with technology. The HR department want a new HR system. Sales need a new CRM system. A new marketing campaign will probably involve a website, and even if IT doesn’t produce the website, IT will still have a decision role in the choice of Content Management System or agency. IT will probably have a role in recommending specific social media.

IT have become very good at understanding the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of doing something within an organisation.

Producing a Facebook Page doesn’t cost anything. Someone in IT is going to ask who will look after it, who will answer the comments, who will keep the content fresh, what will the complaints process be. Suddenly the Facebook Page isn’t free, it requires a couple of people to spend a couple of hours a day on Facebook.

This is because IT has become more mature in project management and understanding that Total Cost of Ownership. Ten years ago, IT got burnt buying software and then realising training cost more. And more powerful servers were required. And maintenance cost a lot more. So IT departments realised that to do something required calculating the Total Cost of Ownership.

Universities need to catch up quickly – they need to train IT professionals about the rest of the organisation and to learn to speak their language. Accountants have historically been good at this communication, and IT have been awful. IT love buzzwords and jargon. The rest of the organisation dislikes it. IT love to deep dive into detail. The rest of the organisation is bored by it.

I’d like to thank Ilan for inspiring this post a few weeks ago, and for a gentleman at Internet World yesterday for reviving the thoughts.