How mobile transformed an 80 year-old catalogue retailer

Littlewoods catalogue

In four years Shop Direct has gone from selling the majority of its products via twice yearly catalogue to an entirely digital operation that sell the majority of its products via the mobile web.

British catalogue retailer Shop Direct has transformed itself from a paper-based into a pure-play digital business.

In 2012, 72% of sales came from catalogues. In 2016 it will be 0%. Today Shop Direct’s £1.8 billion business is 100% digital.

The first mobile web sale was booked in early 2010, now mobile accounts for a whopping 61% of revenue and is still growing strongly. And how has it effected the bottom line? Well, last financial year pre-tax profits for the group were up 78%.

Jonathan Wall, Group ecommerce director, explains to ClickZ how mobile came to dominate Shop Direct’s business.

Tell me about how things have changed since you put out your last catalogue.

There has been a huge transformation of the business from being a catalogue to an online retailer. Our last catalogue was produced in April 2015. It was a huge piece of work preparing for this as a business, but in the end the last catalogue went quite quietly.

You might have thought that a business that had been producing catalogues for 80 years would have a bit of a fanfare or even a civil ceremony around the last catalogue. But thankfully as a business we had already moved on.

We didn’t want to remove our catalogues until our customers were predominantly online. But we had reached the stage when our customers had started to say: “Why are you still sending this to me? That’s not what makes me buy from you.”

Are you able to tell how much business you might have lost, presumably there were some customers who didn’t shop online?

Of the small number of people who were using the catalogue, most were also buying online. For the tiny minority who don’t want to browse online, there’s still an option to receive and shop from brochures.

But this was about the transforming the way we do business. If you are only producing two catalogues a year it dictates the whole way the business works internally – this means you are producing fashion and setting up products for every six months.

So it was having a major effect on the business and how we worked.

So your cycle of buying was determined by production of the catalogue?

Absolutely. Because our summer catalogue come out in January we would have to have bikinis on the shelf in January when people were still buying woolly jumpers and warm coats.

So removing the catalogue gave us a big advantage with respect to buying and merchandising and how we stocked our shelves.

And were you able to use your analytics to see what proportion of customers stayed with you as you moved online?

We used hold-out groups. We’d pick a set of similar customers and we send some of them a catalogue and not to others.

It soon became obvious from those hold-out groups that those customers who didn’t receive the catalogue still continued to shop with us. It showed that the catalogue was not incremental and customers just weren’t valuing it as much as they used to.

So how much of the business is mobile these days? How quickly did you see mobile growing and what stage are you at now?

So we took our first mobile order in the beginning of 2010. By the end of 2010 mobile was only about 2% or 3% of our orders, but it was nearly 7% of our visitors.

It rapidly became apparent that mobile was going to be a huge part of our business. So we focused heavily on getting our mobile web journey right.

Back then there was a disparity of devices – Android was just starting off, there was iOS, BlackBerry, Windows, Symbian was still around.

That meant we would have needed to develop lots of apps, so we decided we would just have one journey across all browsers, which is why we focused on mobile web. Unlike most of our competitors were developing apps for all these different services.

What proportion of the business is digital and what proportion of that is mobile? Do you measure in revenue or orders? And is it still growing?

100% of our business is digital and 61% is mobile. That’s revenue. And yes, mobile is still growing very strongly.

Tablet is slowing down, but mobile web is having its second surge of growth at the moment.

Why is mobile surging now? Why is tablet slowing down?

Now that smartphones have larger screen sizes, people just aren’t using tablets as much. Everything else is growing, while tablet stays the same, so it is declining as a proportion of our business.

When it comes to a shopping experience the tablet just isn’t as important to the customer as it has been.

We do a lot of research with our customers, but we have done some special home sessions recently. It is obvious that customers don’t think about getting their laptop or tablet out any more.

When they’re sitting on the couch and see something they want to buy on the TV, the mobile phone is the first thing they pick up, rather than their tablet.

Do you think this is down to improvements in mobile phones, networks or mobile websites?

I think it is a result of many things. First, mobile sites are much better now. Everyone is doing a reasonable job – and in some cases a good job – of delivering a decent mobile experience.

Second, the technology is getting much stronger: people are getting better WIFI in their homes, mobile screens are getting bigger and customer behavior is changing, they’re becoming much more comfortable with mobile devices.

Have you stuck with the mobile web-only approach?

We stuck with mobile web until December 2014 when we launched our first iOS transactional app. We’d had various apps before, such as catalogue apps, but nothing that allowed purchases.

But in December 2014 we took the decision to launch an iOS app for Very and then in July 2015 an Android app also for Very.

We knew it was a good app, but we were delighted by how receptive our customers have been to it.

very app

Are your apps native, hybrid or web-based apps? I believe that retailers often go for hybrid apps as they are easier to integrate into backend e-commerce systems than native apps.

We have a hybrid app… this is a conversation that comes up very often with our ecommerce team. We have a hybrid app where we use the best of native app development where it is needed.

So, for instance, on my account, where customers can see the balance on their credit account or see where all their orders are, is native.

Any where we want special features, where native development will help, we are absolutely native. So roughly 50% of the customer journey is native – all the non-shopping is in a native environment.

However once they enter the shopping experience it is mobile web.

So when it comes to purchasing, it’s a web app?

Yes it’s mobile web. The first reason that we do this is because it is one code base, though there is slightly different code between the hybrid app and the normal mobile web.

The second reason is that we have developed a reasonably good journey for our customers in their shopping experience and we believed this experience is still optimized within a mobile web app.

It is a really interesting one this, because there are some retailers who are going purely native, some who are taking the same course as us, and some retailers who still have an automated experience using one of the companies that just turn your mobile website into an app.

There is still a market for that sort of solution but we believe the best way is hybrid.

Are you able to track customers from web to mobile to app? If I put a product in my basket on my laptop will that be in my basket on the mobile web and app also?

Yes, if you place a product in your basket or save for later on the desktop or whatever device, when you get into your app it will still be there.

So who is downloading your app, is this existing customers on the desktop/mobile web or new business?

Predominantly it is existing customers coming onto the app as opposed to bringing in new ones. But we still use mobile web as our main acquisition tool.

How do you use mobile web as an acquisition tool? What’s proving most effective?

We use the usual suspects, such as Google and Facebook to drive people to the mobile website. Once they have shopped with us, we will deliver messages saying “Download our app now”.

They will be targeted on our sites, but we also target potential customers off-site, identifying them using cookies.

Google, Facebook and display advertising in general have been the most effective ways to get people to download our apps. This is our first 12 months of app, so we are still learning in this area.

But Google want to use us – along with our agency SOMO – as a case study, as we’ve had great success with using data we already have on our customers to target them off site with ads to download our app.

What is your customer demographic if I am allowed to ask?

Miss Very is our bullseye customer – she is a 25 to 45 year old woman with children and a partner.

Obviously we have customers across the entire spectrum, but Miss Very is how we like to portray our target customer to our teams so they have a better understanding.

3 devices-very

Do you have pictures of her on the wall?

Absolutely. But she is actually a real person, she isn’t a caricature.

When we brought Miss Very into the business it helped our teams get a really clear understanding of who they were marketing to – who we were trying to deliver our message to. It has really helped us in our brand marketing.

What level of customer loyalty do you have?

We don’t share the numbers, but we do have a lot of loyal customers. So many of our customers hold an account with us – so our customers have the option to pay now on a cash account or on a credit or debit card or they can use one of our finance offerings.

Plus, we are a department store that sells a lot of products across a lot of categories.

Want to know more about the challenges and benefits of digital transformation? Make sure you check out Shift, our new event in London this May.

23 up-to-date stats and facts about Instagram you need to know


Today we embark on our fourth weekly #ClickZChat, where the good people of SEW and ClickZ take to Twitter to discuss with our expert friends and followers a particularly burning digital marketing related issue.

For this week’s chat, we’ll be talking about Instagram and its rise in value for marketers, so please join us at 12pm EST (5pm UK) on Wednesday 20 April.

As preparation for the discussion, I’ve pulled together as many stats relating to Instagram as I could possibly find, many of which should provide fuel for the conversation and maybe aid your own social media strategy.

Please note: many of these stats were researched and published in a ClickZ article by Leighann Morris from last year, and I have updated the numbers wherever possible.

1. Instagram has more than 400 million monthly active users

2. More than 75% of those users are outside the U.S.

3. More than 30 billion photos have been shared

4. Instagram users generate 3.5 billion likes per day

5. More than 80 million photos are uploaded per day

6. Instagam’s monthly userbase has grown from 90 million in Jan 2013, to 400 million in September 2015.

7. Instagram counted 77.6 million users in the US in 2015.

8. 27.6% of the US population used Instagram in 2015.

9. There is a fairly even gender split between Instagram users: 51% male/49% female.

10. Monthly US Instagram users are expected to reach 111.6 million by 2019. instastat3

11. In 2012 Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion, a relative bargain compared to the $14 billion it paid for WhatsApp in 2014. Here’s a chart of Facebook’s other recent acquisitions…


12. In February 2014 in the US, Instagram had 6.5 million multi-platform users, 20 million desktop users, and 40 million mobile users.


13. As of January 2014, 41% percent of US Android users who had installed Instagram were also daily active users. instastat6

14. As of September 2015, the greatest share of traffic to Instagram was from the US (23.94%) while traffic from the United Kingdom accounted for 3.57% of site visits.

15. 8% of Instagram accounts are reportedly fake spam-bot accounts and 30% are inactive, according to Business Insider.

16. These are the 10 most popular retailers on Instagram by follower numbers:

1) Nike
2) Adidas Originals
3) Louis Vuitton
4) Dolce & Gabbana
5) Michael Kors
6) Adidas
7) Dior
8) Christian Louboutin
9) Gucci
10) Prada

17. Instagram comes 8th in Statista’s chart of leading social networks worldwide as of April 2016, ranked by number of active users (in millions). It overtook Twitter at the end of last year.

instagram popularity

18. In a survey of US teens, 11% of respondents had 101 – 200 followers on Instagram. The US teen average was 150 followers. According to a February 2015 survey, 59% of US teens regularly accessed the social network.


19. As of April 2015, 35% of US users accessed Instagram several times a day. By 2019, the total number of Instagram users in the United States is expected to double the 2014 figure.


20. Instagram continues to rise in popularity among teenagers. In 2015, 33% of US teens chose Instagram as their personal number one social network, up from just 12% in 2012. This compares favourably with Facebook and Twitter, which were chosen by 14 and 20% of the respondents, respectively.

21. 50% of comments are posted in the first six hours.


22. According to Simply Measured, there’s little correlation between text length and engagement rate.


23. Adding a location to posts results in 79% higher engagement.

[Sources: Statista, Sprout Social, DMR]

If you’d like to discuss your own triumphs and challenges in using Instagram as a marketer we’d love to hear your opinions, so please join us for #ClickZChat.

Twitter introduces better targeting with its new Ad Groups tool

twitter adgroup-01_0

Twitter Ads have introduced a new Ad Groups feature in an attempt to improve advertising for big brands using customisation and segmentation.

Following Facebook’s path in trying to present a competitive advertising platform, Twitter is hoping to attract advertisers aiming for large-scale campaigns.

According to Twitter:

“Ad groups introduce a new level in our campaign hierarchy: one campaign can have many ad groups, and an ad group can have many targeting criteria and creatives. This level of granular control helps advertisers improve how they measure results, set promotion schedules, test different audiences, and identify which Tweets work best.”

This way it’s hoping to encourage more brands to join Twitter’s advertising options, as a way to reach a wider audience, increase leads, website traffic, or app downloads, while building, testing, optimising, and measuring all their different campaigns.

Image source: Twitter

This seems important for Twitter’s business future, as despite the slightly depressing facts we examined recently, it still tries to survive in the competitive world of social media, especially in its business aspect.

Different targeting criteria

Twitter offers many different criteria for targeting a specific audience and this may help advertisers measure (and improve) the effectiveness of their ads.

The segmentation of the audience may be performed in various ways, and the most popular options of targeting are:

Geo-location targeting

Big international brands may create many different campaigns worldwide and geo-location targeting – either by country, state, or code – allows them to focus on each sub-group of people with the right message.

Image source: Twitter

Gender Targeting

Not every campaign is suitable both for men and women and that’s why gender targeting ensures that advertisers receive the desired engagement from every campaign.

twitter tailored audiences

Image source: Twitter Flight School

Device targeting

A new app wanting to reach an extended audience cannot create an ad focusing both on iOS and Android users by providing the same link, which means that device targeting can significantly increase the effectiveness of the campaign.

Language Targeting

Geo-location targeting is not the same with language targeting, but both of them can become very useful when narrowing down the audience for an international campaign. Would you like to see an ad in a language that you don’t understand?

twitter oysho

Image source: Twitter Flight School

Follower targeting

This targeting option is very useful for brands that try to focus on specific people and follow the ones that are similar to their target audience. As who we follow may indicate our preferences, this may be considered a fast way to spot the people that are more relevant for each campaign.

Interest category targeting

The users’ segmentation depending on their interests is very popular, as it provides brands a good understanding of what people like in order to deliver the most relevant campaigns to them.

For example, Domino’s targeted people interested in soccer, pop and comedy, proving that sometimes you need a broader perspective to spot your most relevant audience.

twitter dominos

Image source: Twitter Flight School

Keyword targeting

A brand trying to increase engagement or jump in a trending conversation can significantly benefit from targeting by keywords, as this is a great opportunity to increase its reach.

This may be very useful in big real-time events, especially when combined with television targeting.

Television Targeting

Twitter users love using the platform when watching their favourite shows and this can turn out into a very effective segmentation when creating a campaign that is relevant to a popular TV show or even a TV network.

For example, Ireland found the best way to promote its tourism with the help of Game of Thrones.

twt discover ireland

Image source: Twitter Flight School

Tailored Audiences

Tailored audiences allow Twitter advertisers to follow the users that have already shown interest to the brand, or in a specific category, outside Twitter, trying to enhance the brand’s impression to them and turn them into loyal customers.

Behaviors and partner audience targeting

Twitter may be useful even when blending offline and online audiences, as even the in-store shopping behaviors can be analysed and help advertisers find the right audience for their campaigns.

Better targeting, improved measurement

The improvement in targeting with the numerous cases of segmentation can increase the effectiveness of many Twitter ads and we’re curious to see the results for the social network in the future.

twitter ads

Image: Twitter ads

Will the enhanced features of Twitter ads refresh its business perspective? Will brands trust Twitter more now to experiment with its advertising options?

Yes, ad groups may not be enough on their own, but at least they are more than welcome for anyone considering advertising on Twitter.

twt ad groups

Image source: Twitter Flight School

Nick Wilsdon on Enterprise SEO and Customer Acquisition [podcast]


Welcome to the latest episode of the ClickZ Digital Marketing Podcast.

In this week’s edition, we interview search expert Nick Wilsdon on the current and future state of enterprise SEO and customer acquisition.

You’ll learn about the latest developments in search engine optimisation and what opportunities these present for marketers. Nick also shares some practical advice for getting started and what he thinks will be the main areas of growth over the coming months.

Nick Wilsdon started his online career in 1998 and is currently the SEO lead at Vodafone Group where he’s standardising and improving online performance across 22 markets and 55 partner markets.

You can listen to the full podcast here: ClickZ Digital Marketing Podcast Episode 6, but in the meantime are some of the highlights from his 40 minute chat:

09:34 – The move beyond links

Nick comments that the biggest change for SEOs in the last few years has been the move away from the siloed area of links and link acquisition into content and how content is used. “SEO has to be widely engaged with the other campaigns within a business.” It’s a broader discipline.

11:22 – Joining up TV campaigns with online behaviour

Marketers need to be much more savvy when it comes to building mini-campaigns around keywords used in broadcast advertising, as this drives much of viewers’ subsequent online behaviour.

13:39 – How important are links for SEO?

Despite recent pushes for social ranking signals to be acknowledged, Google is still a “link-graph and that’s the basis for the entire search engine.” However it’s the way we earn links that has fundamentally changed.

19:41 – The biggest changes for SEO over the next few years

Nick discusses SEO’s continued growth in importance within organisations, which is tied into the growth in traffic that SEO drives. But it needs to become “mobile-first” in order to keep up, and this extends to app-optimisation. Nick goes on to describe the fundamental differences between SEO and mobile SEO.

21:52 – Opportunities for local search

From the largest national chain to the smallest independent store, every retailer needs a good local search strategy and Google provides a variety of tools to help these businesses. Nick discusses a few of these recent developments.

24:09 – Major risks for brands not using SEO

“The biggest risk is not taking it seriously enough.” Nick expands upon this and further discusses the problems with not using data and using the “wrong people.”

25:30 – Practical tips for SEO

Nick rounds out the podcast with lots of helpful guidance on what you should be concentrating on when it comes to modern search marketing, including making sure your site is running on a secure protocol, as well as recommendations for tools you should be using.
Nick is speaking at Shift London, our new event aimed at the altered minds, business models, skill sets, buying habits and marketplaces driven by digital disruption – and the ensuing transformation imperative. Book your place today.

24 key skills for SEO professionals (and wannabes) in 2016

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Search engine optimisation is one of the biggest games worth playing in business.

The risks and rewards are huge. There’s a lot of head-scratching, occasional sleepless nights, some incredible eureka moments, and plenty of scope for amateur soothsayers. It can be hard work and it seems to be getting ever more difficult, but it is a lot fun.

What I find amazing is that most of the people I have worked with – and also those who I respect and trust within the industry – are self-taught. They have a natural aptitude for SEO based on a number of key skills which they possess, rather than the niche academic qualifications you often need to rise to the top of the tree in other industries.

Many of these people have more than a decade of experience, and can remember when keyword stuffing actually worked. How times have changed!

There are lots of different roles within search, and as such, the industry welcomes people with a variety of different skillsets. I thought I’d explore this in a little more detail, for anybody looking to forge a career in search.

What flavour of SEO will you be?

There are various types of SEO professional, but for now let’s focus on two broad types: the all-rounder, and the specialist.

In a small business there might be one SEO bod doing all manner of things, wearing many hats, and often undertaking wider digital marketing and CRO work. The SEO all-rounder is – or certainly should be – a prized asset in these companies.

The SEO all-rounder can do everything, of course, but time is finite and some projects are absolutely massive. They’ll need help, and will probably need to work with other teams. Delegation may come into play, even if they can do it all.

In bigger companies (and agencyland) you often find specific people doing specific SEO tasks. Some projects are vast and take an age to complete, as anybody who has experience of a site migration with gazillions of web pages will tell you.

Broadly speaking, I think there are three areas of focus – technical, analytical, and creative. There is a great deal of overlap in a lot of specialist roles, whereas others are more skewed towards one or two of these areas.

The right skills for the job

I’ve put together a list of skills that I think are pretty much essential for SEO professionals. If you want to break into the industry then you’ll need some or all of the following.

The skills you have will help determine the career path you choose. For example, if you are highly creative and a great writer but don’t know how to code or understand server configuration then I doubt technical SEO is for you. Instead, you could explore roles relating to content, which plays a major part in achieving strong search positions.

In addition to the core skills, there are also a ton of softer skills. These are essential in modern marketing, and always make an appearance on the job ads I write.

I also asked the ‘skills’ question on Twitter, to mine the brains of expert practitioners. Let’s kick off with Andrew Girdwood’s reply, which I love…

The all-rounder

That’s absolutely on the money. It’s not to say that you’ll need to do it all, but if you’re capable of building, launching and monetising a blog from scratch then you are super-employable.

I’ve always valued practical experience over academic qualifications, and I value a winning DIY-approach above all else. Gumption!

T-shaped marketers

Dawn Anderson’s suggestion is spot on, and reflects the wider trend in hiring circles.

The vertical line in the ‘T’ represents the deep skill, while the horizontal reflects a wider knowledge of other topics and tactics. The longer the vertical line, the more skilled you are in any given area.

Or, to use a phrase Dawn coined: “Jack of all trades, master of ONE.”

T-shaped marketers have risen to prominence in recent years, not least because digital has to some degree flattened organisational structure. Teams need to talk to one another like never before. The right hand should always know what the left is doing…

Templum-shaped marketers

Jono Alderson thinks that being T-shaped isn’t enough, describing it as “woefully inadequate“. He says SEOs need to “master multiple pillars”.

I think there’s something in this. It certainly chimes with Andrew Girdwood’s “all rounder” comment. Maybe the ‘T’ should stand for ‘templum’…

It makes sense to have a strong understanding of other marketing disciplines, as well as business strategy more broadly. Perhaps being strong in just one area isn’t enough to stand out these days?


A huge part of SEO relates to the technical setup of your web pages (content) and your server (ability to deliver the content). Google offers many brownie points to those who make the most of technical SEO, and in a competitive sector it can make all the difference.

There are so many foundational things that you need to get right, from a technical perspective. No amount of link-building is going to sustain prominent search rankings if your web pages take 10 minutes to load.

In addition, there’s often a massive gulf between marketing and technology teams, so tech-savvy SEOs can play a vital role in making things happen. They are ambassadors that sit between these two teams, and play a vital role in making websites work effectively for the business.

You will waltz into a technical SEO role if you develop a strong understanding of HTML, schema markup, canonicals, server configuration, and mobile optimisation, among other things.


I’ve always believed that producing quality content is the best hope you have of achieving high rankings on the search engines. Yes, you need the basics in place, but from a standing start a strong piece of content will stand a good chance of attracting links, shares and traffic.

Content comes in many different shapes and sizes. If you’re a great writer then copywriting or blogging might be the place to start. If you are a design whizz who can work with data then producing visualisations could be the thing to do. But these jobs might be better positioned under the ‘content marketing’ banner, rather than SEO.

I think content-focused SEO is rather more strategic. It should be based around detailed research and analysis, and there should be a grand plan, when it comes to content creation…

  • What terms are you chasing down, and why?
  • What does your information architecture look like, and is it fit for purpose?
  • Where are those hero and hub pages that you need to point all those internal links at?
  • Why is your on-page content not converting?
  • How should micro content – such as button labels – be optimised?

These are the kinds of questions that content strategists need to explore, and SEO should occupy a large chunk of their headspace when doing so.


If you have an aptitude for working with a lot of data then SEO might be a great career choice for you, because there is a hell of a lot to process, and to make sense of.

Your peers in SEO respect people with analytical brains, especially if they possess the ability to work with multiple spreadsheets, databases and APIs to discover errors, patterns, and opportunities.

Performance analysis, competitor benchmarking, technical audits, traffic analysis, keyword research… all of these things may become a regular part of your working life, and require a lot of left-brained thinking.


It’s essential to look at search through a wide-angled lens. For many businesses it is the number one source of web traffic, leads and sales. That is a position that needs to be protected, and optimised (hence the ‘O’ in SEO)

There are many strategic risks and rewards to be aware of, and to explore. Google makes countless changes to its algorithm and user interfaces every year, and it is tempting to narrow your eyes and focus on the tactical. Wading into the reeds of search can be a dangerous distraction.

It’s important to know what’s going on, and certainly to be aware of major updates, but it’s also crucial to take a long-term view. Taking shortcuts with SEO tends to be akin to shooting oneself in the foot.

As such, a strategic mindset is vital. You have to be able to look beyond the horizon, to be patient, and to explain long-term strategy to senior stakeholders/clients.

Project management

Or should that be process management? SEO is a constant undertaking for a lot of web-focused businesses, though some tasks seem to be ‘projects’ rather than ‘processes’.

In any event, Ingo Bousa has done a good job of summing things up…

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You will have many plates spinning at any given time. Making sure they don’t break is part art, part science.

Client management

You should be able to communicate ideas and approaches to internal stakeholders, for in-house SEOs, or external clients, for agency-side professionals.

Clients may think they know best, but they probably don’t. That’s why they hired an agency. Just because they’re paying you doesn’t mean that you should become one of those nodding dogs.

Meanwhile, agencies sometimes promise more than they can realistically deliver. In some cases they will implement quick but sketchy wins, which almost certainly paves the way to a shitty future. Bad news for both client and agency, amid much head shaking.

Managing expectations and making people aware of the risks (and rewards) is par for the course.

User experience

Google has clearly stated that user experience is of increasing importance for achieving and maintaining strong rankings.

I don’t actually know how much of this has been put into practice, given the high rankings of websites I’ve stopped visiting on the grounds that they appear to hate me, but I suspect UX factors will become a key ranking criteria in the years to come.

You don’t need a HCI degree, though if you’ve got one and fancy a career in SEO then don’t be shy. But an understanding of user flows and intent is crucial. We’re talking about optimisation more broadly now, but knowing about these things is always a good sign to recruiters and interviewers.

As with a lot of things in digital marketing, there’s a lot of crossover. It seems reasonable to me that SEO professionals might be the ones driving that user journey mapping project, or looking at the most common sources of friction on a website.

Skill up in this area to stand out from the pack.

Soft skills

There are a bunch of softer skills that you’ll need to work in digital, and that apply to SEO. Most of these are essential, and reflect the right kind of mindset that you need.

I actually think that most of them cannot be taught… you either have them, or you don’t.


This is massively important, and is something I look for when hiring across all areas of digital marketing. To be blunt: if you’re not that curious, you’re not that interesting.


This is something Ammon Johns mentioned, and it is genuinely essential. In the world of SEO there is no shortage of opinions and statements. It’s a bit like journalism, where you are taught to look well beyond the press release – or the obvious – for the true story.

It is important to have a healthy degree of skepticism, and a few spare wheelbarrows of salt. Narrow your eyes.

Critical and whole-brained thinking

This was suggested by Dan Shure and follows on nicely from skepticism. The whole-brained thinking methodology helps to remove bias and blind spots. The ability to think laterally and to find creative solutions to entrenched problems is a valuable talent to possess.

Competitive nature

SEO is a big game, after all. You should want to win, consistently, and with one eye on the rules and the other on what goes on under the table.


The best people I’ve ever worked with have a real passion for digital, and are effective operators because of it. They are constantly interested in many different things and have an ongoing desire to learn. If your heart isn’t in it, then why not do something else?


You should want to set and achieve goals, objectives and targets. Goals should drive you forward, and you should take great pleasure in smashing through them.


Lots of organisations are still full of silos and glass walls, with people not talking to one another and teams working independently. People with collaborative mindsets tend to be more effective in getting things done, and thrive when working on projects with others of a similar nature.


Alex Jones flagged this up. Search is an “ever-changing landscape“, given the changes to algorithms, search positions, your web assets, and by the competition. It’s really interesting, but you need to be able to adapt and react quickly.

What you thought was right today might prove to be wrong tomorrow. Big deal. Adjust your thinking and move forwards.


Filip Matous suggests that you’re not going to get any quality links unless you “understand what gives real value to the places you link prospect“. You need to understand a little psychology, and to figure out what makes people tick.

This also chimes well with Chris Lee’s comment about “PR acumen“, which is a real bonus in SEO if your job involves building relationships.

Entrepreneurial spark

Working in SEO normally means that you’re close to the money, and that’s something that should give you a thrill. If you have past entrepreneurial experience it will go a long way, and most interviewers will be interested in exploring that side of your personality.

We’re not talking about a multi-million dollar conglomerate here… a small affiliate-based side project will be enough to spark a discussion. How did you build the website? Did you implement Google Analytics? What were your main sources of traffic? How much revenue did you make?

All of this shows that you have plenty of gumption, passion, and drive. Bravo.


Ever seen a “dear blogger” letter, in search of a link? I could show you so many horrific examples. There is a better way…


A lot of SEO work is manual. It’s certainly not coal mining, but it can be a slog. There are tools and processes that can help you, in terms of identifying links to disavow, or opportunities to secure some new inbound action.

If you have ample reserves of persistence and a tolerance for repetition then it will help with some of the tasks you may take on.


Yes, you need to be able to read (and write) but what’s key is the desire to read, read, read. I often tell people that it accounts for about 20% of most jobs in digital. There is much to learn, and the environment is constantly changing. You have to stay on top of things.

Attention to detail

Just massive. I look for it, I test for it, and I rarely hire if you haven’t got it. Moreover, I don’t think you can learn it.

What did I miss? Leave a comment below…

Insights on digital leadership & transformation from last week’s #ClickZChat

In past editions of ClickZChat we’ve focused on fairly targeted insights, but with our new event Shift fast approaching, the time seemed right to tackle some larger themes.

This week we took to Twitter to ask our followers how inspired leadership can drive transformation initiatives, and where people fit into the grand scheme of the ‘digitally ready company’.

Q1: What are the key characteristics of digital leaders?

Q1: What qualities do great digital leaders need? Transparency, tech skills, agility? Let us know! #ClickZChat

— ClickZ (@ClickZ) April 13, 2016

A digital leader has to have something that sets them apart from others, and many of our followers felt that this was as much about mindset as it was experience.

@ClickZ A1: They execute. Instead of theorizing the impact of an app, they use it and give honest insights or unbiased opinions #ClickZChat

— Odem Global (@odemglobal) April 13, 2016

@ClickZ A1: An open-mind… transformation often requires a lot of risk short-term but need to see the benefits, not the immediate work

— Chris Williams (@christentive) April 13, 2016

@ClickZ A1: Authenticity is also important when trying to stand out in the digital world with your unique voice. #ClickZChat

— Tereza Litsa (@terezalitsa) April 13, 2016

Clearly, leadership in the digital world requires agility and a genuine curiosity about the possibilities of new channels and tech, but openness and a genuine desire to collaborate lies at the heart of what makes digital leaders different from their offline counterparts.

No sneaking around and hiding behind others – being bold! #ClickZChat

— ClickZ (@ClickZ) April 13, 2016

Q2: Should marketing be leading digital transformation?

These traits are often found in the marketing department, and it doesn’t seem unfair to suggest that marketing is where a lot of the talk (and action) around digital transformation exists. Is marketing responsible for driving organisational change?

Q2: Should #marketing always be leading the digital charge? Who sets the pace in your business? #ClickZChat

— ClickZ (@ClickZ) April 13, 2016

Several people agreed with this, but felt that successful transformation very much relied on getting buy-in at board level

A2 Generally speaking, whoever is closest to the money holds the power. Marketers need to prove worth… #ClickZchat

— Andrew Warren-Payne (@agwp) April 13, 2016

But this in itself required faith in the practitioners to implement effectively:

@sewatch C-suite needs to provide discretionary test budget, then step far away to let people actually test. Red tape delays adoption.

— Parry Malm (@ParryMalm) April 13, 2016

With so much resting on the people, how much does the technical side really matter?

Q3: Is it the tools, or is it the talent? Should we be investing in tech or training to drive digital change?

— ClickZ (@ClickZ) April 13, 2016

@ClickZ Tech is the rocket, Talent is the fuel! #blastoff

— Odem Global (@odemglobal) April 13, 2016

A3) IMO: Leaning towards culture & talent than the tech, how willing are you to embrace digital.#ClickZChat

— jason (@jj_stockwell) April 13, 2016

@sewatch #EClickZChat A3: Digital transformation is 75% culture & 25% #tech. It’s all about the culture & customers being open to change.

— Christopher Thames (@ChrisThames29) April 13, 2016

What can we learn from this?

Several key themes arose during this week’s chat, but perhaps most important was the opinion that digital transformation is something that needs to be realised at a cultural level throughout the entire business, but it should be driven by members of the C-Suite who are open to new practices and technology.

Real success hinges on having a sense of genuine trust in staff, and the agility to deploy projects quickly.

We also heard from followers about good examples of transformation, such as General Electric and Maersk using content to redefine their brand and the conversation in the B2B sector, and again, this highlighted the need for real faith in the long-term results, and a shift away from immediate returns.

If you are interested in digital transformation and leadership, be sure to check out our Shift event series, where we’ll be taking a deep-dive into the practical realities of transformation projects.

Thanks again to everyone who took part this week – make sure you join us for our next regular #ClickZChat on Wednesday at noon EST.

Paid search rules for ROI on mobile: report

clickz intelligence main objectives for mobile advertising

Lead generation and direct online sales represent the two most important objectives for mobile marketers and paid search is the key mobile channel for achieving these objectives.

This is according to our new ClickZ Intelligence report on the State of Mobile Advertising 2016, produced in partnership with Search Optics and based on a global survey of more than 400 marketers and digital professionals.

At least half of the respondents cited lead generation and direct online sales as their main aims when running mobile paid search (70%), social (50%) and display advertising (54%) campaigns.

Paid search came out as the top mobile channel which marketers relied on to meet lead gen and sales objectives partly because paid search is easier to measure compared with other mobile ad formats.

Paid social can be similarly easy to measure effectively. However consumers often have a lower purchase intent when using social media than when searching, so the objectives for this channel lean more towards branding and traffic.

Some marketers believe that ROI in mobile advertising is lukewarm or unclear, especially when compared with more tried and trusted desktop media approaches.

Overall, mobile advertising was described by fewer than a quarter (23%) of respondents as delivering ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ ROI, while a similar proportion deemed it poor (20%).

how do you rate roi from mobile advertising

Questions around both ROI and ROI visibility are raised markedly around display and social advertising channels for mobile.

Only 15% of marketers deemed mobile display advertising as providing ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ ROI, and only 23% said the same for social. Compared to search, which 32% viewed as positive.

The greater confidence in mobile paid search ROI is also evident when looking at both client and agency side marketers. Marketers on both sides consider search a safer bet when it comes to ROI, with 31% and 35% of respondents respectively rating this channel either ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in terms of ROI.

17 ways to improve your site search results pages

hof site search

As site search users can be have a greater intent to purchase than the average, it pays to provide the best possible experience for these users.

In this post I’ll look at the presentation of site search results, and what retailers can do to ensure that users’ searches are successful.

Filtered navigation

An absolute must. Unless people have searched for a very specific product with a unique model number, or perhaps for a catalogue code, searches will result in a number of matching products.

For example, this search for a ‘red shirt’ on House of Fraser returns 810 possible matches. That’s a lot to go through.

However, the addition of product filtering options allows shoppers to refine the results by price, brand, reviews, and so on.

This should help the customer to find a more manageable number of results that match what they’re looking for.

Leave the search term there and let people edit it

Many sites delete the search term once you get to the results page, or show it in such a way that you can’t edit it. As here on H&M:

HM site search

Leaving the term there, and making it editable allows users to append searches with other words, or to quickly correct any mistakes they may have made.

hof ss

Provide non-product results

While most site searches may be product-driven, retailers should also cater for those users who are simply looking for information.

Here, Boden shows non-product results on different tabs. This is a useful way to separate the information out for different types of searchers.

Boden site search

Show reviews

Reviews should be used around the site where they can influence and help shoppers.

Showing them in site search results helps people to make a faster and more informed decision about the suitability of a product.

Here, Best Buy shows average review scores in its search results. With so many matching products, this helps a lot.

digital camera search

Allow filtering by customer reviews

To carry on from the previous point, Best Buy also offers ‘customer rating’ as a product filtering option, among a very comprehensive list of filters.

This allows users to quickly dismiss the worst-rated products.

filter by review score

Sprinkle in some social proof

Reviews work, but other forms of social proof can be incorporated into search results, as here on reviews

It tells us that these hotels are in high demand, with people looking at and booking them today.

This is useful in one sense, as it tells the user that they need to book soon to secure it, and this can nudge them into making a faster decision.

Let people sort the results

Some people are price conscious, and want to see the cheapest products first, others may want to see newer stock, and so on. So let them order the results according to these preferences.

Schuh sort

Provide viewing options

There’s no right or wrong answer for how to present search results. How many per page, do you paginate results or show them all on one page, grid or list view?

The obvious answer is to let them choose themselves.

Here, Macy’s provides plenty of choice.

Macys views

Consider other useful display options

Here, M&S allows users to toggle between different types of product shots. They can view the product on its on, or worn by the model.

M&S ss

Learn how to deal with misspellings

Users will misspell items or make mistakes when typing search terms. The best way to deal with them is to anticipate what the customer meant (where possible) and provide the relevant results.

Zappos misspellings

Avoid zero results / dead ends

There will be times when items aren’t stocked, or the customer’s search term is indecipherable.

In this case, provide some options. Here, River Island has some advice on searching, then shows its most popular searches and new products.

river island

Consider quick view

Many sites now provide a ‘quick view’ option, such as Fossil:

quick view

This allows users to click and see a smaller version of the product page in overlay form.

The intention is to save them the time and effort they would spend clicking into and out of full product pages.

fossil qv

Show different views on mouseover

This is a quick way for users to see alternative product views on results and category pages.

Here’s an example from Wolf & Badger:


Learn from your data

Your site search data can tell you a lot about how people use it, and how well it performs. This information can be used to improve presentation of results.

For example, you can look at click depth. This can indicate the relevance of site search results and how deeply visitors go into the results.

So, if they’re clicking through to pages three and four of the results, does that mean they’re struggling to find what they’re looking for?


Data can also be used to identify best sellers, popular searches etc, and this can be used to preset relevant product suggestions.

This brings us to ‘searchandising’. Retailers can use site search results to give greater prominence to popular or recommended items, as Curry’s does here:


Adjust colours

This is another feature that makes it easier for customers to see items in search results before they click through to product pages.

Macy’s allows searchers to change the colour of products shown in search results:


Try bigger images

Product images are important, and sometimes larger images will work better.

The tendency is for retailers to show plenty of products in search results, using relatively small images.

However, larger images can be more effective by allowing users to see more detail of products.

This A/B test on a Czech site demonstrates how this can work. The ‘winning’ version, which delivered a 9.46% increase in sales was the one in which the product images were largest.

AB test image size

In summary

Good site search is all about relevance, and doing as much as possible to improve the user experience.

Features like quick view and effective filters make it easier for customers to find the relevant products without too much hard work.

The caveat here is that these features should be tested and the best balance found for your site. While some principles are widely applicable, what works for one site doesn’t always work for others.

How to optimize your Google My Business listing: expert tips

GMB mobile

A Google My Business profile is an essential for local SEO. It’s free and will enable you to appear in local search results for queries specific to your products or services.

Even broad queries with large volumes are now showing local results which is something small business owners can capitalise upon.

We’ve been asking SEO experts for their advice on setting up and optimising GMB listings..

The experts are:

  • Greg Gifford, Director of Search and Social at DealerOn.
  • Kevin Gibbons, MD at Digital Marketing agency Blueglass, and a contributor to SEW.
  • Max Holloway, Senior Search Manager at Pi Datametrics.
  • Raj Nijjer, VP Community at Yext.

How important is Google My Business for local SEO?

Greg Gifford:

GMB is incredibly important, but it’s going to lose prominence now that they’re removing all location information from the GMB listings.

There’ll now simply be a social interface (on a social network that no one is using). But – the GMB dashboard still feeds the info to Maps and the Knowledge Box for a business, so it’s still of vital importance to claim your location and fill out your info.

Kevin Gibbons:

The increased visibility that Google has placed around Google Local listing results on mobile has meant that Google My Business is essential for local SEO.

If you are searching on a mobile device you will see that organic results are now shown below the fold (you have to scroll down to see them) and there are now only the top three Google local results being shown – so due to the on-page real estate Google local can take up, there’s huge traffic opportunities for being listed for competitive searches.

Max Holloway:

GMB is incredibly important for local SEO. Without it you won’t be appearing on any local map listings in the SERPs which Google displays for the vast majority of local queries.

Raj Nijjer:

Critical. It’s the centerpiece and fundamental to any local campaign! You simply don’t exist if you don’t create a Google my business page for your local business.

What are the most important things businesses can do to optimise their Google local listings?


It’s absolutely important that the number listed is a local number, and that it matches the number displayed on the landing page it links to.

It’s super important to use the actual business name and choose the correct categories as well. Beyond that, my suspicion is that nothing else will matter after the change.

Kevin Gibbons:

I wrote a guide on this last year which should be a good starting point, but to pick out some of the key points – I would strongly suggest:

  • Firstly claim your listing, as often many people don’t.
  • Ensure your details are up-to-date (previously you might not have accepted Credit Cards).
  • Double check your opening hours and phone number as these often change over time or the business has new owners or management
  • Check the business images you are using and consider refreshing them or uploading higher res versions.
  • Check no-one has made an edit to your listing and changed the businesses’s website to their affiliate link, have seen this too!

Max Holloway:

When it comes to choosing your categories be specific. You have a much better chance to rank for “Fresh grocery store” or “Organic butchers” than for generic terms like “Shop” or “Groceries”.

You should also add photos of the business, or its customers and the people who work there. As well as opening hours and any other useful information such as parking locations.

Raj Nijjer:

It starts with getting NAP (name, address, phone) right and then creating citations (listings) on every other site like Yelp, Bing, Yahoo etc. Category is also important so the consumer can find you. Most recently Google announced their ranking methods at a surface level.

Adding more information about your business always helps with click through rate. My advice has always been to get the website right and then copy all the information into GMB like description, hours, menu, photos etc.

Having the same NAP information on your website is absolutely critical, especially marked up with so your website speaks the same language as Googlebot.

What advanced tactics can businesses use to improve local visibility?

Greg Gifford:

Advanced tactics? Stick to the basics… have awesome content, a kickass link profile, and consistent citations…

Kevin Gibbons:

  • Pick a picture or logo that will make your listing stand out and get clicked
  • Check the popular times of the day and use paid social or AdWords to drive more visitors during times your business is open but you are not as busy.
  • Encourage local reviews and social checkins from your customers.
  • Encourage visitors to upload photos of your venue/business.
  • Use services like Yext to build relevant citations to build up the profile of your business and its physical location.
  • Consider employing a Google certified photographer for a Indoor Street View tour of your business, this is something we did this for our own office recently which helps to show a more personal side to the business.

gmb 2

Max Holloway:

To really improve your local rankings you will want to build citations for your local listings, these can be on local business listing website (LBLs), other websites or even your own website i.e. in a store finder section.

Another big ranking factor is to encourage customers to leave positive reviews on your GMB listing. Your star rating is also displayed on the map to searches so a high rating can also improve your click through rate from the SERPs.

When this feature was first introduced it was very easily scammed; adding a large number of positive or negative reviews would have a huge impact on your ranking, and you could see small business on the outskirts of London ranking for terms for “Hairdresser London”. Fortunately this has now been fixed.

To further improve your local visibility you will want to build pages about the services you offer in certain locations and theme those pages appropriately generally along the lines of [service] in [location].

If you notice some of these pages are having a hard time getting good rankings you’ll need to start building links into them. Often links from other local sites can have a bigger impact on the ranking than more generic or high authority sites, as Google will weight their locality higher than most other factors (when it comes to local rankings).

Raj Nijjer:

First, Prominence – reviews and exposure. Google wants to translate offline popularity online. Getting positive reviews is critical these days so it’s a must that business owners work with their best clients to get positive reviews that mention their products and service.

Second, Duplicates – since there is no master record, publishers are constantly compiling and recompiling data which creates duplicates. Many of these duplicates have the wrong Name, Address or Phone. This can really harm your ranking! Suppressing these duplicates is a MUST because Googlebot is a machine and it can’t infer which listing is right.

Finally, I call this approach the CAN principle.

  • Consistency – having the same NAP data on directory sites and search engines. It’s something I evangelize at Yext.
  • Accuracy – correcting your Nap data across the local ecosystem to make sure it’s consistent. Also, getting rid of duplicate listings which can harm your ranking because it confuses Google.
  • Number – having authoritative citations (listings) across as many cites as possible. There are over 50 sites where you can create a citation for your local business and many more vertical specific sites.

Five of the most interesting SEM news stories of the week

US green ads

In this week’s round up we have penalties for bloggers, Google indexing image alt tags and the most expensive AdWords keywords.

Google begins testing green ‘ad’ labels

A few people starting spotting green ‘ad’ labels on Google paid ads from yesterday.

It initially seemed to be a UK test, but I’ve since seen examples from around Europe, the US and Australia so it seems Google is testing this widely.

The question is why, and it’s not hard to guess that making them seem more like organic results is a possible explanation.

Testing whether Google will rank keywords in image alt tags

An interesting test conducted by Dawn Anderson, which she writes about on SEM Post.

Dawn explains the test in detail, but it shows that Googlebot will read and index keywords in the image alt tag.

The most expensive PPC keywords in the UK

With help from SEMRush, Chris Lake looked into the most expensive PPC keywords on Google UK.

The most expensive was £148…

tech keywords

Mobile advertising stats

This week we released our State of Mobile Advertising 2016 report, produced in association with Search Optics.

It contains plenty of useful insights on mobile advertising from clients and agencies.

For example, Paid search is found to be the leading mobile channel for ROI, though measurement and attribution issues are holding advertisers back.

paid search roi

Google punishes bloggers for linking to reviewed products

After last month’s advice to bloggers reviewing products they’ve received free of charge to nofollow any links to product pages, we’ve had a spate of manual actions.

Google penalty

Bloggers reviewing products have reported receiving notices like the one above when logging into Search Console, and Google’s John Mueller has confirmed that these are linked to Google’s earlier advice.

Whether the action are justified or not is another matter, as we have no idea how Google can tell if links are due to freebies or not. However, bloggers now need to be careful when reviewing and linking.