SEO, overload and bugs

On this weeks show, Bug hunting, dealing with too much work and more on SEO.

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Paul Boag:
This week on the best web design podcast you’ll ever want to listen to ever, bug hunting, dealing with too much work, and Paul gets into SEO again.

Hello boys and girls, and welcome to this week’s podcast. Hello, Marcus, how are you?

Marcus Lillington:
Hello, Paul, which window are we looking through today? Is it the round window or is it …?

Paul Boag:
Oh yes. I’ve fallen back into my children’s TV presenter voice at the moment.

Marcus Lillington:
Do they still do Playschool?

Paul Boag:
I doubt it. I think that was like 30 years ago or something. Now that’s all …

Marcus Lillington:
That was always on when I was little, but I think it was still on when my kids were little. Good question.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, but your kids are now teenagers, so that’s still a considerable length of time, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Abigail’s 21 in a couple of month’s time.

Paul Boag:
My word.

Marcus Lillington:
And James is 18, so I have two adults.

Paul Boag:
You have. You don’t have children at all.

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
Did you love the way that I referred to myself in the third person this week? Apparently I’m now the royal “we”.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly, yes, and Marcus will be discussing with Paul later some of these things – it didn’t sound very interesting – oh, the bit about the SEO, I think you were saying this is the best podcast in the world ever, which it is, and then talked about what, bug hunting or something? It was like…

Paul Boag:
Yes. It’s not the most inspiring of topics, is it? It’s going to be great. I can make anything sound interesting, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
That’s what I always – the feedback I always get at conferences. I never – at a conference, I’ve never had anybody say wow, that was the most profound thing I’ve ever heard. He is so intelligent and clever. It’s always you can always rely on Paul to be entertaining, great. So all fluff and no substance, that’s me.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, well, you can make boring things sound interesting. That’s a talent.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I guess so.

Marcus Lillington:
You should be a teacher.

Paul Boag:
I should be. Why I’m doing web design? There you go. Hey, talking about interesting things.

Marcus Lillington:
What?

Paul Boag:
When is my new MacBook Air arriving, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:
Shortly after mine.

Paul Boag:
You promised me that you had ordered me one of the new fancy MacBook Airs.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. I don’t know whether I – what, something – it’s got USB 3 on it, which is good because that will be quicker. That’s a good thing, but it’s not like woo – if it had got the shiny screen …

Paul Boag:
The retina display.

Marcus Lillington:
… then it would be like, well, I’m having it now. I would have ordered one by now and sod the consequences.

Paul Boag:
What, you mean, sod Chris getting grumpy at you? I don’t know, for me, double the hard drive space.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, that’s a – that is a big one. That’s a very big one.

Paul Boag:
It is a big one.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m always having to move things around.

Paul Boag:
And also having a better processor in it, because let’s face it, because we’ve got – not the last gen, I mean, we’ve got the first generation of MacBook Air, haven’t we?

Marcus Lillington:
Not the very first. If you remember, the very first ones were just rubbish. A complete waste of time, no one ever bought them. They were kind of designed for businessmen and no one bought them. They imagined just people on airplanes would use them or something like that. And that …

Paul Boag:
Right. Hey, my son’s just come home. Hello, James, come and say hello on the podcast.

James
No.

Paul Boag:
You can – it’s really …

Marcus Lillington:
You can say hello on the podcast.

Paul Boag:
You can’t hear Marcus, because he is in my ear. But Marcus is the one that you replaced on the special episode.

James
Yeah. I’d like to –

Paul Boag:
Do you want to apologize to him?

James
Sorry!

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, he does want to apologize. You brought up far too polite a boy. He is nothing like you obviously.

Paul Boag:
I know he is not. He apologizes at the drop of a hat. He is the nicest person I’ve ever met. And how I’ve managed to raise him is quite beyond me. You can go now.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m not sure, Paul, you’ve ever apologized for anything in your life ever. Have you?

Paul Boag:
I have to apologize regularly to my wife otherwise she’d divorce me.

Marcus Lillington:
That doesn’t count.

Paul Boag:
So yes, he has just got home from school, so he is now off doing whatever is that he does. I’m sure I should know.

Marcus Lillington:
My son is – he has been revising, he has got his third A-level exam tomorrow, followed by two the day after.

Paul Boag:
Oh, painful.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, imagine doing that. He is doing Chemistry, Maths and Physics. And I’m looking at it going, I don’t know. I did physics A-level; I look at it and just go, haven’t got a clue.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, but you didn’t finish it, because you went off to become a pop star.

Marcus Lillington:
I did, yeah, but you’ve got to have a bit of an understanding of that sort of thing to be able to be in the class in the first place.

Paul Boag:
Yes, that’s a fair point.

Marcus Lillington:
They wouldn’t have let me in.

Paul Boag:
No.

Marcus Lillington:
But it still doesn’t – it means nothing. Numbers, I can understand one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, zero and the – sort of times…

Paul Boag:
Combining those numbers in some way.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes and that’s about it, but all – he has so many different signs and symbols and things.

Paul Boag:
Strange squiggly lines that mean nothing.

Marcus Lillington:
Planck’s constant and stuff like that.

Paul Boag:
Yes. So we didn’t finish our conversation about the MacBook Air. I mean, it’s the increased processor speed that I’m really excited about because the one we’ve got is rubbish.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, but it’s only been rubbish lately when we’ve had – when we’re trying to run some sort of stuff that’s sucking all the power out of it. Up until we started using Squiggle, I’ve been fine with it. I mean, I’m currently running – I’ve got Logic Audio running as we speak along with some other things that I haven’t bothered turning off and it’s still …

Paul Boag:
It’s – yeah, it’s graphic stuff. It’s the fact that this new one’s got a much better graphics card on it. Because I struggle…

Marcus Lillington:
Don’t get me wrong, I want one and I want one now.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. So what about – are you equally as excited about iOS 7?

Marcus Lillington:
I do like the fact that when you change the angle of the screen, the angle of the picture behind changes.

Paul Boag:
I can’t believe that this seems to be the biggest selling point of iOS 7.

Marcus Lillington:
I can’t remember anything else. Oh, it’s white. It’s white instead of black.

Paul Boag:
It looks kind of pretty. I’ve got it running on my phone now, the phone that we’re speaking on.

Marcus Lillington:
So I agree with Leigh wholeheartedly about – fancy using Helvetica New. That’s very lazy. Surely Apple could invent their own font.

Paul Boag:
It’s got some peculiarities to it. I’m not sure about – some of the icons are absolutely gorgeous, like the new photos icon and then it’s like its camera icon looks like it’s been designed by a five year old and then some of the other things like the Appstore icon is – yeah. I know what they’ve tried to do by having a consistent grid system and all the rest of it, but sometimes it hasn’t worked so well. But as an overall feeling, its animation and its movement is lovely and that’s the thing you don’t see from the screenshots and the kind of translucent overlays and things like that. So, it’s got its good points and its bad points.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I mean, I’m going to give the icons sometime because I think it’s possibly one of those things that you’ll learn to love. I may be wrong. It’s a bit like when the – with cars, when the new version of your car comes out and you think the new version looks horrible, but then about a year later, you think it looks fantastic and elegant and modern and stuff. And I think maybe there is a bit of that going on, but I still stand by why are they using Helvetica New. That doesn’t – I know it’s a beautifully elegant font, but you see it everywhere. Everyone uses it.

Paul Boag:
It has been – yeah, I mean, it has been used a bit to death admittedly.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
I will tell you the thing I like most about it is the new control center, which to be honest should have been there ages ago. This whole one flick and I can put airplane mode on, or out of office notification or whatever else.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, that’s good.

Paul Boag:
That’s good. And then what was the other thing, Maverick?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, but I haven’t – I didn’t listen to this bit of the speech. Why have they called it Maverick?

Paul Boag:
Because they ran out of cats.

Marcus Lillington:
No, they haven’t.

Paul Boag:
They run out lions, it was different lions, wasn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
And all they really had left was sea lion, so they made the very poor joke in the actual keynote – actually it did made me laugh, so it couldn’t have been that poor, could it? So they’ve gone – what they’ve gone for instead is places in California because they’re doing this whole kind of Apple designed in California.

Marcus Lillington:
You had to take your hat off to that advert and go right, yeah, that was nice. I wonder how long it took somebody to make that.

Paul Boag:
It is beautiful. They have this turn of phrase that – they’re just very good at marketing themselves, aren’t they? You know, there is no two ways about it.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, it’s also – yeah, I know, it’s awesome! And it’s – yeah, it’s a brilliant case of advertising that in the way it looks – the fact that the content leads the design, it’s just beautiful.

Paul Boag:
Yeah and it’s – I mean, there is a lot to learn from it from a kind of web design point of view about how important aesthetics are and about how tapping into emotion is such a powerful tool. It really is quite impressive.

Marcus Lillington:
Do you actually believe that they start with how do we want to make someone feel?

Paul Boag:
No.

Marcus Lillington:
I thought – I was crossing – I was nodding my head – not nodding my head, I was saying no, shaking my head, that’s what I was trying to remember.

Paul Boag:
Shaking your head? The opposite of nodding.

Marcus Lillington:
What’s it called? The opposite of nodding! Shaking my head thinking no, you don’t. What you start with is how much is it going to cost.

Paul Boag:
Actually, I don’t think they do. I think they are the exception to that.

Marcus Lillington:
No, I’m being a bit – whatever the other word is. I’ve used too many words today. I haven’t got any words left.

Paul Boag:
Pedantic, sarcastic, irritating, those kinds of things. Shall we – there is one more thing, we really want to move on and actually talk about web design, but before we do, I do want to mention just one more thing, because I had – it occurred to me I don’t think I’ve mentioned this ever on the podcast, which is that I do another podcast as well.

Marcus Lillington:
What?

Paul Boag:
Did you not know that, Marcus? One secretly without you.

Marcus Lillington:
Didn’t – you used to be on a panel for something?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, no, that was – I did a podcast for .net magazine.

Marcus Lillington:
What you do a regular podcast?

Paul Boag:
Another regular – you’re going to be singularly unimpressed when I tell you what it is. It will be a huge anticlimax. But people don’t know that I do kind of – because everybody complains about this podcast, I don’t know why? They complain that we waffle too much and maybe don’t ever get round to talking about web design. They say… what is it, 10 minutes in or whatever? So what I’ve started doing is I’ve got a second podcast, which are short audio tips. Did you know about this?

Marcus Lillington:
I’ve know you’ve done this for years, these aren’t podcasts.

Paul Boag:
Oh. I really – basically that – they’re short to the point. Here is a little kind of web design tip you can take away, you can subscribe to it in iTunes, it’s got an RSS feed. That makes it a podcast.

Marcus Lillington:
Does it really?

Paul Boag:
It goes out multiple times a week, much more than this one does.

Marcus Lillington:
I view them as audio tips.

Paul Boag:
So how is that different to a podcast?

Marcus Lillington:
I view a podcast as kind of a show, a radio show kind of thing.

Paul Boag:
A more waffle-y thing.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, there is more room for waffle in a podcast. But you should carry on for those people that don’t like waffle. The audio tip thing, podcast.

Paul Boag:
And I do them a lot more now and so you can – if you fancy checking out what they kind of cover, essentially if you subscribe to the main blog feed for the blog because I – not the podcast, the opposite of podcast, the blog.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, right.

Paul Boag:
If they’re subscribed to that, basically I put out something on that feed everyday of the work week. So Monday to Friday, there will always be a post and occasionally even on the weekends, although that tends to be personal. And you will get these – this audio in that mix as well, but if you just want – if you want to subscribe to it in iTunes, if you want to subscribe to it in a podcast application of some description, then if you go to boagworld.com/category/tips, you will be able to get to this particular – yeah, this particular service, this offering that I give away for free out of the kindness in my heart because I’m an amazing person.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, obviously, if you’re doing personal podcast for people in the weekend, so if I log in, will I get one saying hi, Marcus?

Paul Boag:
No, not that kind of personal. Non-web design related stuff goes out at the weekend, but they don’t – they’re very rarely audio tips. The audio tips are just week day ones out. And because even the podcast episode that I recorded with my son without you, I didn’t put any of the podcast feeds. So people have to go and search that out especially. I will put a link in the show notes, so that…

Marcus Lillington:
Probably much better than the ones with me.

Paul Boag:
Actually – some of the comments that I’ve received back from it indicates that it was far superior and we should stop talking about web design. So, there you go. Should we – talking of which, should we talk about web design?

Marcus Lillington:
Let’s do that.

Paul Boag:
Or should we just give up?

Marcus Lillington:
No, let’s carry on. Soldier on.

When should I hire an SEO company?

I recently read your article about hiring SEO companies. If your website is not based around new content or posts at all, then how much does your article’s advice still apply? For instance, my site is just webhosting prices comparison. It’s a very over saturated market, I know, but it’s not really based on posting new content or any type of blog or interaction, so I didn’t know if that means it’s more needed to hire an SEO company?

Mike

Paul Boag:
Alrighty ho, so the first question, I’m a bit scared, Marcus, because we’re going to talk about search engine optimization and we all know how that ends.

Marcus Lillington:
Shall I read it out and then just let you rant for half an hour?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, no, that’s fine. That’s good. Go for it.

Marcus Lillington:
This is from Mike. He doesn’t leave his surname.

Paul Boag:
No, we’ve got no surnames this week, that’s weird.

Marcus Lillington:
Probably a good thing, isn’t it? I don’t know.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, actually well, then we can pretend you made it up. So this is Paul. This is one of Paul’s questions.

Paul Boag:
It’s not. Mike will be deeply hurt that you’ve said he is an imaginary person.

Marcus Lillington:
All right, he is a real person. Here we go. I recently read your article about hiring SEO companies. If your website is not based around new content or posts at all, then how much does your article’s advice still apply? For instance, my site is just webhosting prices comparison. It’s a very over saturated market, I know, but it’s not really based on posting new content or any type of blog or interaction, so I didn’t know if that means it’s more needed to hire an SEO company?

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m not sure that last sentence made a lot of sense, but …

Paul Boag:
So I didn’t know if he means…

Marcus Lillington:
I can see what he’s trying to say. He doesn’t write posts and have new content on the site, it’s just about comparing prices. So does he need SEO more or less? Oh, great guru of the SEO world.

Paul Boag:
I don’t know how I suddenly seem to be commenting on SEO a lot. I do apologize to people. Do you know, we ought to get an SEO expert on the show.

Marcus Lillington:
Instead of me?

Paul Boag:
Instead of – well, yeah, you know I’m into replacing you. Any opportunity. Yes – no, I seem to – I presume the article he read was the one on Smashing Magazine. So there is a link in the show notes to that. Where essentially I said that I think getting your content right is more important than just optimizing for search engines. And the – this was taken as me slagging off SEO quite majorly and I can see how it was taken as that and recently I posted a new post because I’ve been doing some experiments with SEO on Boagworld. Did you read that one, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:
I did.

Paul Boag:
So it’s not – you said that I never apologize, I apologized in that.

Marcus Lillington:
You did, but then you said, but I still stand by what I said.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, actually someone commented on that in – on Twitter that I didn’t – that I wasn’t grovelling enough. So I’m not quite sure, I thought I was apologizing, but I guess I do still stand by what I said in the previous article, which is that I think most website owners have got an unhealthy obsession with their rankings on Google, which I stand by, that we should be creating primarily for people and not search engines, which I stand by, that the best way to improve your ranking is to produce great content that people link to, which I stand by, that great content is produced in-house rather than being outsourced to an agency, which I stand by.

And that a good web designer can take you a long way in improving your site’s accessibility to search engines, which I stand by and that before you spend money on an SEO company, you should have the basics in place first, which I stand by. But I have to say, I think the majority of SEO people, the good SEO people would agree with those comments. But I then did a load of test – I did do a load of testing on Boagworld just – because it was a really good case study in a lot of ways because you have this scenario where I’ve been producing great content fit – or great content, he said modestly, great content.

I’ve been producing content consistently for year upon year upon year without ever once thinking in any way about SEO at all because – and then what I then did was I carried on producing content in exactly the same way as I did before, but I did certain SEO exercises, which I outline in the blog post that you can see in the show notes. And I discovered actually it did increase my rankings and it did draw – drive more traffic to my site. So hence I had to come out and say, look, I’ve got clear and definitive evidence in my own test to prove that yes, this can improve my rankings.

Marcus Lillington:
That, Paul, was wrong.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. I guess that would be fair.

Marcus Lillington:
There was one point in there that I’m not sure an SEO person, company would agree with of your previous list, which is this one about content needs to be written by people in-house.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. I’ve got mixed feelings about that as well. So I was reading down that list then. That was the one that I most – would be most unsure about.

Marcus Lillington:
I mean, yes, ideally, but it’s – I think there are people out there who can write on your behalf, who are good at it.

Paul Boag:
Yes. And perhaps that is a scenario where an SEO company, because a lot of SEO companies now are as much content strategy companies as they’re SEO. I think – again, I’ve still got problem with the term SEO, but that’s a personal hang up. Yeah, so I think there are a lot of people out there that yes, probably could – I think the problem that I have is that that takes a lot of research and a lot of understanding. Let’s go back to Mike’s example, right.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So Mike has got a hosting company, all right. And he is arguing that you can’t write a blog about hosting. And I actually strongly disagree with that. I actually think that – I mean what I always encourage people to do is write around their topic, right. So, you could – you can write about hosting just as easily as you can write about web design. You can write about security, you can write about up time, you can write about configuring your server, managing your server, looking after it, you can talk about patches and software upgrades. There’s hundreds and hundreds of topics that you can write about in regards to hosting. So I think my advice to Mike is you’re wrong and that actually you should be having a blog and you should be posting new content on a regular basis. Now the problem is that you need to have a degree of expertise and knowledge of hosting in order to be able to write about that subject. And yes, it’s possible you could get an external person to come in and effectively interview people within the organization and then go away and write it on your behalf. So yes, it is possible for an outside person to write content, but it’s probably easier for people that have got a knowledge of that subject to be able to write about it. Do you see what I mean?

Marcus Lillington:
I do but if you look at what Mike has said, he is – he has a price comparison site and it’s to do with hosting. I’ve just started looking – I’ve gone off on a tangent.

Paul Boag:
That’s fine.

Marcus Lillington:
I’ve start – I looked at Gocompare. It happened to be the top of – well the top of the ‘pay fors’ on price comparison search. They don’t appear to do much in the way of writing about stuff. They cover all of the different things that they provide price comparisoning for. Comparisoning, that’s not a word.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, but the reason – they’ve gone down a different route. They’ve gone down the route of we’re going to do massive advertising.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
So that has increased their profile. Gocompare are on everywhere from TV to banner advertising to all the rest of it and that’s pushed them up the rankings because they’ve built up a very big media presence. So, that means a lot of people link to them so therefore they go up the rankings. I’m presuming Mike can’t do that. But when you’re doing a comparison, a Gocompare style thing for hosting, there is even more to write about now. About how you compare one hosting company to another different criteria by which you can compare companies; does the up time guarantee actually mean anything. The answer which is no, by the way.

Marcus Lillington:
I take that back; Gocompare do have a magazine.

Paul Boag:
There you go, see.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So actually I think there’re very few subjects that you couldn’t blog around. I mean take for example Wiltshire Farm Foods that we used to work for; they never actually did a blog because they didn’t want to – they didn’t want to dedicate resources to it. But there would have been – they sold frozen meals to old people. So you think what the hell can you write a blog about relating to them? Well, there is actually loads you could write about. You could talk about nutrition, you can talk about diet for the elderly, you can talk about great recipe ideas, you can interview people within the company like the chef; how he comes up with new ideas for it. You could even profile people that are the packers that have to work in minus 25 degrees all day to ensure that your food is nice. And you can talk – write about that kind of stuff.

There is no end of stuff you can write about and I think that – honestly I think a lot of people go ‘oh, well we can’t create a blog, we can’t produce content, we can’t create engaging stuff around our subject matter,’ and that’s essentially a lack of imagination and a lack of lateral thinking. Because essentially you can produce content that appeals to your target audience because your target audience are people and they’re interested in something. Going back to the Wiltshire Farm Foods angle, they could break out from just talking about food to talking about healthy living as the elderly. Which, part of that is nutrition, and that – and they put a lot of effort into ensuring that their meals are nutritious and healthy for you. But you could get into exercise as well. You can also, once you build – begin to build up a readership, you can encourage people within the company – sorry, within your community of readers to start contributing ideas and content as well. So, it almost becomes self sustaining after a while.

Now you could argue actually perhaps you need an outside expert to teach you how to do all of this stuff. So perhaps I am wrong in my comment that you don’t need outside help to do this. I guess it depends how much time and energy you’ve got to commit to this kind of stuff. And that’s the problem I think with blogging that people are intimidated by the amount of work that is involved. I think probably looking back at that blog post in hindsight and that particular post where I say that great content is better produced in-house, rather than being outsourced, I mean, if I’m – the kind of spirit of that was saying really you should produce it in-house. If I stuck to the letter of it, which is not fair, but if I did, then it is still correct. Great content is better produced in-house.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, yeah.

Paul Boag:
But that doesn’t mean you can’t outsource it. It’s just I think slightly more difficult especially when it’s quite a specialist subject area.

Marcus Lillington:
Or you can do as Gocompare have done and resort to sex.

Paul Boag:
Is that what they’ve done?

Marcus Lillington:
No, I’m just…The one – this just caught my eye. The third in the list of stories they’ve got is a fifth of Brits get saucy in car parks. New research has revealed that a fifth of bonking Brits have used car parks for intimate activities. I’m not really sure what the point of this is, but there you go. It did make me laugh.

Paul Boag:
The point of it, the reason they’ve got that magazine is for one reason only. It’s to drive traffic, it’s an SEO thing. And actually I’m not – see again, I don’t think that probably does them a lot of good because you’re driving people to blog post where they don’t – where the reader doesn’t give a monkeys about the brand behind it, and half of the stuff is not particularly related to what it is that they offer. And I actually think you need to tie it as closely with your subject matter as possible. I mean, Gocompare is all about saving money really, isn’t it? So that’s what it should be about, not ‘here is something that mentions the word car 28 times in it so that we can then sell them insurance.’ To me – and that’s where there is this line which is so easy to cross and that goes back to the very first point I make in the conclusion of this article which is website owners are – have got an unhealthy obsession with rankings on Google and I think it is very, very easy to cross that line and a good SEO company should help you not cross it. But it is easy to fall into this trap of just writing content to drive traffic where that content has no value in itself.

Marcus Lillington:
Some people have the line in different places though, don’t they? I mean if people are just out to make a fast buck then they don’t care so much, do they?

Paul Boag:
Absolutely and that’s fine, but you need to remember that where I place the line is the right place because I’m always right. No, absolutely that is a fair comment, Marcus. And I’m not adverse to making a quick buck and if it works then yeah, feel free to do it. But I think my question is – see the trouble is right, it’s about – I think it depends on what metric you measure. This is really interesting. I was recently reading a Seth Godin article that tackled exactly this – link in the show notes – and the point that he made – he gave a completely different example. He talked about how companies – credit card companies have become obsessed with the metric of reducing fraud, all right? So what they did is they set up a department whose job it was to reduce the amount of fraud made on credit cards.

So what those – that department then did is they started flagging stuff very quickly and at a very low threshold: ‘oh, this might be dodgy; we’re going to flag it and block the transaction.’ And sure enough that drove the number of fraud – the amount of fraud down through the floor, but what it did at the same time is alienate people because their cards kept getting blocked. They were monitoring one metric in isolation and they were getting bitten by it. And I think bringing that back to SEO, I think the same thing can happen there, that with something like that Gocompare ad – sorry, blog post you just mentioned, the focus, the metric there is how much traffic can we drive, right. But that’s not enough, that is not a good enough metric in itself, it’s got to be how much traffic we can drive and how much of that then converts, and that’s what I’m not sure about. When you have posts that are there just to drive traffic, I think they normally generate quite a low conversion rate.

Marcus Lillington:
I couldn’t agree more. It’s just – yeah, it’s similar to people sending you emails saying we’d like to link to your site. It’s like well, you’re not bringing any value but someone’s told them that if the more sites they link to or get links from, the higher they will be in Google. And that’s all they can see.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. All right. I think we’ve spent way too long on this. This could be a really long show if we don’t move on pretty damn smartish.

What is the most effective approach to testing?

Hello, Marcus and Paul. My name is Alastair from websitedoctor.com. I’m from Ireland. I’ve been listening to you guys bloking and joking and slagging off your listeners since all the way back in 2005. You had a big influence on me having the courage to leave my safe corporate job and start a business so thank you. My question today is about testing websites after changes. And I’m not talking about testing specifically around the changes you’ve just made; I’m talking about more complex sites where there is a bit more functionality than a brochure site. Something where there is tools and transactions going on especially with a non-linear user flow. And I’ve been in a situation where a seemingly innocuous change has broken something way over in what seems like a completely unrelated part of the site, kind of like the website equivalent of your car’s windscreen wipers not working after you replace the rear bumper.

Sometimes a cause and effect are out of sync in timeline as well. I saw this recently where a client was hosted on a shared host and a webserver configuration was changed, something affecting PHP settings and there was no problem at all until four months later the site fell over because they updated their plugins and one of those plugins had a dependency on the previous PHP setup and that was really nasty one to diagnose because of the route cause happening so long ago. Clients don’t want to budget for a complete site test when you’re making just one tiny change and there is not always enough budget for like a full manual test on every feature, particularly on the large site. And despite every attempt to do the right thing, having development and staging and production servers and sometimes a production site is either too big or complex to reproduce on 100% functionality or your budget just isn’t there.

This is the question. How do you guys handle testing in this kind of scenario or, if you don’t encounter this problem yourselves, do you have any recommendations for those of us who do? That’s my question. You may now proceed to ignore it and tangent off and slag off my accent. Thank you.

Alastair McDermott

Paul Boag:
So, hasn’t Alastair got a stupid accent?

Marcus Lillington:
I wasn’t going to say anything. I know he gave you an invitation to say that and actually no, it’s a beautiful accent.

Paul Boag:
It is actually, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
I always love it when you get call centers that are based in Ireland or – and it is always Ireland, isn’t it, or kind of Edinburgh area in Scotland because they’ve got these lovely accents and you can’t get angry at them.

Marcus Lillington:
I guess that’s why they’re chosen. Of course it is, yes.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely. And so, Alastair, I’m sure whatever you said was right because you’ve got such a lovely accent.

Marcus Lillington:
But we’re bloking and joking around, I wasn’t so sure about that.

Paul Boag:
Oh come on, we do. We’ve actually lost work because we bloke and joke around.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, well that’s because – yeah, some people haven’t got a sense of humor have they, hey? any?

Paul Boag:
We’ve also won work because we bloke and joke around, so it goes both ways. You can’t win whatever you do basically. Now I said we’ve talked far too long on the last one. So that’s actually a good thing because I don’t know. People send me these questions right, about technology and stuff. I don’t know. I’m not a techie. I suspect he probably wanted someone intelligent to answer this question rather than me.

Marcus Lillington:
I will then – I will answer it.

Paul Boag:
Go on then.

Marcus Lillington:
Because obviously you can’t.

Paul Boag:
I’m looking forward to this. You’re just reading my notes of the things that I prepare to say haven’t you?

Marcus Lillington:
No, no I’m not reading your notes at all. No, I’m going to give an example of what we do with a particular client.

Paul Boag:
Oh right, okay. Wow. I’m glad you’ve got something to say because I was like flailing…

Marcus Lillington:
You do sound genuinely surprised, Paul.

Paul Boag:
I am genuinely surprised. Carry on.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, we haven’t had such a severe example of the example we just heard when something got – didn’t come up until four months later when something was updated, which I don’t see how you can cater for that kind of thing cropping up at all. How can you ever test against something that might break with something new coming along? You can’t, would be the answer to that one. But what we’ve done with other sites where we’ve been pressurized into kind of – well that’s a bit unfair, but let’s say we pressurized ourself into doing something quickly and quickly pushing something live because maybe we’ve lost a day when it was only going to take a couple of days and it’s something that’s really – it’s really important and we push it live and it does break something else. And this has happened a few times with one of our clients. So what we ended up doing is basically agreeing a checklist of testing with them and both sides have to go through this 20 point list. I could probably dig out from Pete. Again, it’s probably 20 or 30 points, but we have to test all the different sections in the site, we have to make sure that certain elements and functionality still work and it’s tick, tick, tick on our side and the same on their side, which is fairly logical, if you think about it.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
But it’s just the fact that somebody has to do this, every time there is a new release to the site. So that’s my short and sweet answer. Have a checklist for both sides.

Paul Boag:
I quite like that. Yeah, I like the idea that the client has a responsibility in testing too.

Marcus Lillington:
Absolutely.

Paul Boag:
Because then that discourages them from rushing it, do you know what I mean? Because they’re the ones that are going to live with the consequences and they’re the ones that are going to get, you know. Because they do pressure to some degree and I can understand that and so they should; that’s their responsibility. But getting them to do some of the testing. I mean one of the things I said is also it is worth getting a third party to test rather than testing your own work. I think it’s really hard to test your own work. I don’t know why, but it is, because you think – perhaps you think oh, that bit doesn’t need testing, I know that works. And it’s something psychologically that makes it quite hard. Another thing I’ve picked up from his question was he talked about the problem came about because of a client updating a plugin. Wherever possible don’t let clients update anything. Obviously content but as soon as you get into scenarios – and we’ve had this before where a client is changing the code base in some way…

Marcus Lillington:
You’re done for.

Paul Boag:
You are. You are absolutely stuffed, so avoid that all costs. If they do have to do that, if there is just no way round it, then you’ve got to make sure they’re using a source control system, the same source control system that you’re using, so that you can then – and this is good practice anyway even if it’s just you. You should be using source control because it A, allows you to roll back quickly and B, that it also allows you to do comparisons between previous code and the current release so you can try and work out where it’s broken a lot easier. So, that kind of helps.

Another aspect to this is make sure you’re paid properly. If people are going to moan about things breaking when they go live, then the only thing you can do is ensure there is more testing time. And if there is more testing time, that’s going to cost more. That’s life and you need to make it very clear what you feel needs to be done in order to ensure the testing is of an adequate standard. And if the client isn’t willing to pay that money, they need to understand the consequences; you need to lay out up front that that does mean there is a chance that things will break. And if things do break here is our solution to it; we roll back to a previous version and then we have to amend. There is – there are so many variables here that there is no way you can prevent bugs from going live. It is a matter of mitigating the risk and the amount that a client is willing to pay will dictate how much that risk is mitigated – that was hard to say.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, you have a problem there though, because if you go right well when you can only – this is our price with lots of testing and testing, a bit like project management, is something that many clients don’t like paying for or it’s something they feel they can do. And then – but so you have a kind of situation where you agree a compromise okay, we will test it as thoroughly as we can based on what we’ve charged here and then something goes wrong and then it’s a case of well, it’s going to cost you even more if something goes wrong because we’ve got to roll back, we’ve got to find out what the problem is, and then we’ve got to do more testing which is even more than in the – if you’d paid in the first place. And I have no answer to this; it’s just that’s when you get into – these are the joys of doing client based work.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I think it all comes down to educating the client. I think they have this perception that you build it, it should work. And, yes, it should. Of course, it should, but there are – as I say, there are so many variables involved, it’s actually extremely hard to ensure it will definitely work. There are so many things that could go wrong with it. And obviously the more complex the application, the more likely something is to go wrong. The only other piece of advice I have got is there are also automated testing services where you can set up macros of testing websites. And that can be useful as another way of approaching especially with things like load testing and that kind of stuff. To be honest, Marcus, we’re the wrong people to talk about this. What I’m going to suggest is if you’re listening to this and you’ve got any advice at all about testing and how to get the most out of the best practices in testing, then please go along and post it into the comments associated with the show. The show will be boagworld.com/season/6/episode/So6e10. If you manage to work out that you are or you do better than me. But you’ll be able to find it, you are intelligent people. Please make an effort to help Paul or Alastair out because, yes, he is struggling and ditto we. So should we move on to a question that maybe we’ve got a chance of answering?

How do I deal with too much work?

I recently seem to have become very good at winning work. Good for you. And I’m getting about an 80% success rate after talking to clients. Very good for you. This has taken me a bit by surprise and now I am solo freelancer working on seven different projects with seven different clients of which two are repeat clients. I just don’t have enough hours in the day. At the moment, I feel that I am doing an equally bad job for each of them as I frantically try to meet each deadline and I’m gradually losing the goodwill of my existing clients. What can I do? Is this a sign that my rates are too low? Yes. In the future, how do I manage telling potential clients that I can’t do their work for a couple of months?

John

Alright. So, Marcus, what’s our last question?

Marcus Lillington:
This is from John, someone else without a surname. Maybe he doesn’t, maybe he’s like Prince and doesn’t have a surname.

Paul Boag:
Could be.

Marcus Lillington:
I recently seem to have become very good at winning work. Good for you. And I’m getting about an 80% success rate after talking to clients. Very good for you. This has taken me a bit by surprise and now I am solo freelancer working on seven different projects with seven different clients of which two are repeat clients. I just don’t have enough hours in the day. At the moment, I feel that I am doing an equally bad job for each of them as I frantically try to meet each deadline and I’m gradually losing the goodwill of my existing clients. What can I do? Is this a sign that my rates are too low? Yes. In the future, how do I manage telling potential clients that I can’t do their work for a couple of months?

Paul Boag:
Now, I picked this one, Marcus, because this is a conversation we’ve been having recently, isn’t it? We’re in exactly the same position, although I don’t think our success rate is 80%. That is very impressive.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, but that’s I – yeah, that’s outrageously good. What was that? We reviewed one in the last series or maybe the series before which was by the guy who runs the sales team at Happy Cog and they reckon they get 50% hit rate and we’re like, pretty good. 80% is outrageous. I suggest you are charging nowhere near enough.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
You’re amazingly good, I suppose.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, but even if you’re amazingly good, you’re still not charging enough then, because you’re amazingly good and should be charging more. Absolutely, I mean, first thing to do is increase your prices. Second thing to do I’ve …

Marcus Lillington:
To just take that first one, I remember talking to Andy Clarke about this, I think it was on one of our, I think, it might have been on one of the marathon once we did and he said he decided to change his rates from £400 a day to £800 a day overnight, just did it.

Paul Boag:
And how did that work for him?

Marcus Lillington:
Absolutely fine. Thank you very much.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. So the great thing is by doing that and now to be honest, Marcus, I think this is a conversation we need to have as well. If you increase your rates dramatically like that, okay, yes, you’re going to lose significant number of clients, but two things happened there. One is you only have to do half the amount of work you used to have to do, because to make the same money. So you only need to win half the clients you previously won; and two, the clients you do win: a, value a lot more; and b, money is not a big object to them, so they’re going to be much easier clients so I’m going to penny pinch all the stuff. So actually, I think there is a huge value to doing that and I would really encourage you on to take that approach.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I have – so I have now – they have got more on this subject.

Paul Boag:
Okay, carry on.

Marcus Lillington:
Because I think personally our Headscape’s rates are absolutely fine. What we are guilty of doing is fitting – massaging scopes to fit budgets and it’s a lot – that’s a lot more difficult to say to you – take to yourself, right, these are my rates, this is how long it takes, so therefore we’re too expensive. When I’ve recently done it on a proposal, I was kind of like trying where can I cut this to fit, where can I – and that was like then just this is your price, just send it out.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Because it’s – we’re all intelligent people, we can go, okay, my hourly rate is X or my daily rate is Y or whatever, but I know how much they’ve got, so I’m going to fit it all in and then what you’re effectively doing is reducing your hourly or daily rate, so you got to be honest with yourself and this is I’m talking to myself here.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
… because there is nothing wrong with our rates at all. Talking to about Headscape, is it a question of being a bit more honest about how we price things which I say, patting myself on the back, recently I’ve done it properly. But certain clients come along and you just think client really want to do this one, great and they say I’ve got this and you go we can nearly do it for that, so let’s just do it.

Paul Boag:
I think there is a place of going I really want to work with this client, so I am going to massage the figures, I think that’s acceptable. I don’t have a problem with that. I do – I think our consultancy rate is a bit low, but we probably ought not to be discussing that on the podcast. I think that’s probably a different conversation. But anyway, so there is two parts to this really, isn’t there? There’s his current dilemma of he’s got these clients and he’s not really doing any of them with very much favors at the moment, and then also what to do in the future? What would you suggest he does with his current clients at the moment? He is got a go and talk to them, isn’t he?

Marcus Lillington:
The first thing he tries is doing absolutely hitting it really hard and can he do 16-hour days for a couple of weeks and sort it out. And if he is young and talented, we can all do that once in a while and that will be the best way of doing it as long as he does genuinely, delivered good quality. Otherwise, yeah, is there anyone in there who is a friend who might be patient, who might be willing to let a deadline slip a bit. But then …

Paul Boag:
I mean, yeah, the other option is he may need to get a freelancer in and recognize that’s going to completely cut into his profit margins.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, but I mean our experience with that not 100%, but in many ways has been you end up making more problems for yourself that – what ends up being delivered from the freelancer is often worse quality than if you’d struggled on your own or it keeps going back, so it takes longer. That’s a bit of a depressing view of the world, but it’s true particularly [indiscernible] work.

Paul Boag:
I mean, I guess, wow, yeah, I mean it depends whether he has got a mate. There are some areas, say, if we needed help with I don’t know HTML and CSS, I know people that are reliable and I would quite easily trust to come in and join the team and get the job done.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
If we were talking about something else like, I don’t know, SEO, for example, then I would struggle because I don’t know of people that I would get in to do that if that makes sense. So I think it kind of depends on the situation, but that would be another option.

Marcus Lillington:
I can’t answer that question without knowing what these projects until. If it’s a very specific thing, designing a logo or something like that and, yeah, I can probably make the recommendation that he goes to his friend he does logos too. But if he – if I suspect he is designing websites from the ground up, then it will take so long, it will take so much effort in trying to explain to someone else what is required, you might as well just accept you’re going to sleep very much over the next couple of weeks to a month. Just – but don’t let it happen again, I suppose.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, that brings us on to the second part which is how does he manage this in future, which is the problem we’re having.

Marcus Lillington:
Just tell them.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Although one thing that’s coming out of this recently as we’ve been – bemoaning for weeks and weeks that we’re too busy. It’s actually not been – it’s not that bad. We’re having to say, yeah, okay, we can’t start this for whatever, we will say mid-August, then you think about it. Well, mid-August is actually what, I don’t know, eight, nine weeks away, something like that, that’s not that bad.

Paul Boag:
No.

Marcus Lillington:
And then – so then we work out what it would take in so that we can deliver it by whatever by the middle of October, say, and people go, that’s fine. Thanks, okay? Move on. It’s – I mean that’s been one or two opportunities that come along where we’ve had so we can’t start this still middle of August, say, and they’ve said, well, we need it before then. So thanks and we go, alright, cheers. And they’ve moved on. It’s not that big a deal, just to be honest.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely. No. And I think the other thing to say with this is just because you’ve gone through a pitch process, right, and you’ve written a proposal and you’ve gone to the pitch and you won the work, that doesn’t mean you have to do it. Until the contract is signed, you don’t have – you are not committed to that work and there are scenarios where if you’re going for a dozen pitches and normally you only win 20% of them and suddenly won 80% of them, it’s acceptable to say I’m sorry, but in the time that this process is taking to go through, I’ve suddenly my pipeline is filled up and I can’t start this until whenever, that’s fine. And they have got an option then to go, okay, fair enough. Then we need it quicker than that, we’re going go to our second choice on the list.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Not a big deal.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s just – yeah, it just to have a grown-up conversation about it.

Paul Boag:
Be a grown-up. That are our advice is that really the best that we can do, be a grown-up.

Marcus Lillington:
On that subject I need to find a joke, don’t I on that subject?

Paul Boag:
Have you not found a joke, that’s not about being a grown-up. I thought you had your flip thing, your big calendar of pointless rubbish jokes.

Marcus Lillington:
I left that in the office. I’m not in the office today and also you said it was very rubbish.

Paul Boag:
My son told me a great joke and I can’t remember what it was. So it’s down to you, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
I’ve got – actually I found when I was flicking through the Boagworld app the other day and the only thing I flicked through is – are the jokes obviously. I found this one. Again, which involves Irish people, so which I’m going to change, I probably changed it before. I’m going to change Paddy to Dave.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
Dave was driving down the street in a sweat, because he had an important meeting and couldn’t find a parking space. Looking up to heaven he said, Lord, take pity on me, if you find me a parking place, I will go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life and give up whisky and women. Miraculously, a parking place appeared. Dave looked up and again said, never mind I found one.

Paul Boag:
Dave’s priorities are very screwed. There is no way I would give up women and drink just for a parking place. It is never worth it.

Marcus Lillington:
Dave wouldn’t have done either.

Paul Boag:
No, that’s true. That’s a very fair comment. He obviously thinks God is pretty stupid, which is fair enough. Right, okay I think we’ve talked for far too long this week, haven’t we? What’s wrong with us?

Marcus Lillington:
Not too bad, 50 minutes, 52 something like that will be fine.

Paul Boag:
We’ve been – we managed to get it down to 40, we were all like, oh, streamlined.

Marcus Lillington:
No, last week, it was 57 or something so.

Paul Boag:
Oh, was it really?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Crikey, I obviously just think we’re better than we’re, but it feels longer when you do it over the phone rather than face-to-face.

Marcus Lillington:
Quite possibly.

Paul Boag:
Because I have got your lovely face to look at to keep me entertained.

Marcus Lillington:
That will be it.

Paul Boag:
Okay. So that’s it for this week. We should be back again next week with more exciting wonderful topics that probably have got something vaguely to do with web design maybe. Until then, good bye.

Marcus Lillington:
Bye.

Headscape

Boagworld