Author Archives: Mark Poles

About Mark Poles

Chartered Accountant, Google Qualified Advertising Professional, Google Analytics Qualified Individual, creator of "You're Hired!".

Why even small businesses should be using Analytics

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IBM is currently running an expensive advertising campaign all about ‘Big Data’ and ‘Analytics’. Here’s one of the adverts. You’ve probably seen it.

IBM’s campaign is obviously aimed at big businesses and big public sector organisations, because that’s who IBM’s customers are. But small firms can and should be using these techniques to make more informed business decisions. And doing so really doesn’t have to be expensive (at least not if you ask us to help!)

Let’s go on the pretty safe assumption that you have a website. How many people visited it last month? Ah, you can tell me that because you have a hits counter installed. OK. Now how many of those people were native German speakers?

Why is the number of native German speakers important? Well, it might not be. But what if 10% of your site visitors are native German speakers and your site doesn’t have a German language option? Your site – and by extension, your business – won’t be as attractive to those people as the German language version of your competitors’ site.

We’ve actually seen this first hand with some of our clients. We have a number of clients who provide holiday accommodation in Devon and Cornwall. You might not realise this, but this area is very popular with German-speaking tourists. (Why? Well obviously, the beauty of the scenery yada yada yada, but specifically because of a very long-running, very successful German television series based on the works of the Cornish author Rosamunde Pilcher, most of which are set and filmed in the southwest.) We did some web analytics work on one of these clients (the one with the properly translated German language version of their website), and noticed not only that they were getting much better results from their German language visitors than similar businesses, but that the reason for this was that the presence of the German language website.

 

This sort of analysis is pretty easy to do using Google Analytics, a free service from Google. This sort of powerful analysis tool used to be really expensive, putting it out of the reach of SMEs, until Google acquired Urchin Software in 2005 and developed Analytics from the old (and expensive) ‘Urchin on Demand’ and offered it for free. So you don’t have to spend money on expensive Analytics software.

Analytics

 

Analytics CertificateSetting up Analytics is a little bit tricky, and you might want some help with this. You could train yourself – Google’s course is free and will take you a few days to complete, although it’s not easy. Don’t think that you’ll be able to do it when you have the odd spare half hour – you’ll really need to concentrate and set aside the time. You might prefer to ask a qualified professional to set up Analytics for you. The relevant professional qualification you should be looking for is the ‘Google Analytics Individual Qualification’. Here’s my proof of qualification on Google’s site.

 

The Analytics qualification isn’t just about setting up Google Analytics. It’s also about understanding the data presented and reaching appropriate business conclusions. That means that the qualification is more appropriate for business managers and marketing professionals than it is for IT geeks. Unfortunately, the coding required in setting up Analytics is somewhat intimidating for the average non-geek. That may be why there aren’t actually that many qualified Analytics professionals out there.

If you can get past the geekery, many of you business owners and managers would be able to say that actually, you’re pretty good at “understanding data and reaching appropriate business conclusions”. But qualified professionals, because they have more experience with data analysis, and because they have more experience with other websites, can often spot something that you might miss.

Here are some examples of the sort of things that we would probably spot using Analytics that you might not have thought of:

  • What were people searching for in Google to arrive at your site?
  • Your website gets lots of visitors, but they don’t stay very long – they instantly decide that this isn’t what they are looking for. Why?
  • Your visitors do generally stay for a while on your site, just not on a particular page – what is it about that page that makes users instantly click onto something else?
  • Your visitors stay a long time on the homepage and often don’t click through to the page that explains about your products – how obvious is that link?

Visitor Flow

  • Your pay-per-click advertising is getting you lots of visits, but most of them are from people who weren’t looking for what you sell. (True story: we once had a client come to us for help with their Google AdWords campaign. They were spending a lot of money on clicks, but these weren’t converting into sales. We were able to show them that because of the way their AdWords campaign was set up, their ads were appearing to people searching for any term including the phrase “special offers”. Most of their visitors were actually people who had searched for “lidl special offers” or “aldi special offers”. Our client wasn’t selling anything you could buy in discount supermarkets!)
  • While your website performs well for people using normal PCs and Macs (people stay for a while, look at several pages, buy your products etc), this is not the case for people using smartphones – quite probably your website is difficult to read on a small smartphone screen. (In which case, you need to talk to us about a responsive design website…)

Mobile device info

  • You’re spending lots of money to have your business appear in a prestigious online directory, but only a handful of visitors come to your website having clicked on your link in that directory.
  • You have an online shop with a typical multi-step checkout process, but a surprisingly high percentage of customers put goods in their basket yet never complete the transaction – what is putting them off? Or worse, is there a bug in your website’s shop that is throwing them out? Were all of these incomplete transactions on a particular type of device – e.g. Android smartphones? That’s a very easy way to lose a lot of sales very quickly, and without analytics, you would probably never even find out.
  • Which links on each page do people tend to click on? Which do they ignore? Why?
  • Many more people visit your site in the evening than during the working day, and those people are more likely to complete a purchase – maybe your product is something that people want to think about when they’re at home rather than when they are at work. If you have pay per click advertising, that might prompt you to bid more for clicks in the evening than during office hours. We can help you set up your campaigns like that.
  • You have a blog or a facebook page or a twitter account, but do you know how many people are signing up from your website?
  • Many of the visits to certain pages of your site are from your own employees or your web designers – if you didn’t realise this, you may reach the wrong conclusion about how popular those pages are. (Don’t worry, we can filter out those visitors.)
  • Visitors using a particular web browser don’t stay around – could it be that your website isn’t properly compatible with that web browser? Many web designers (even supposedly respectable ones) do not properly test sites they develop on other browsers, and not all browsers see websites in the same way.
  • Do most of your online sales come from organic searches, people who just typed your web address into their browser, your pay per click campaign, your directory listings or your email marketing campaigns? Analytics can track not just visits from these sources, but how many of those visits turn into sales. You need that information to decide where to spend your marketing budget.
  • A surprising number of your visitors come from one particular foreign country – are they genuine potential customers? (They might not be, but spotting the signs is something of an art…)
  • If you have a site search, what do your visitors type into your search bar?
  • Your site takes a while to load – you maybe don’t notice this because your internet connection at work is superfast, but sites that are slow to load get punished by Google. How? Lower ranking in search results, that’s how! And of course, if users get bored waiting for your site to load, some of them won’t wait. Analytics can even tell you how to speed up your website.

Site speed suggestions

That’s a big list, but it’s really only a tiny fraction of what Analytics and a clever Analytics professional could tell you about your website and your business. And it really isn’t expensive. Give me a call on 01822 835802.

Accounting for VAT on Google AdWords

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Something that my AdWords clients sometimes ask me is “How do we deal with VAT on Google AdWords?”. They know I know about AdWords and they assume that because I’m a chartered accountant, I’ll know all about VAT. I have to gently tell them that my accountancy specialism was audit methodology, not indirect taxes. However, I do know how to account for VAT on your Google AdWords expenditure.

adwords_certified_partner_web_EN-GB icaew_member_logo_RGB_smaller

 

 

 

 

It’s not as straightforward as it might be. Here’s what you have to do…

The Google company that invoices you is Google Ireland Ltd, based in the Republic of Ireland. This is important. AdWords is an electronic service, which means that for VAT purposes, the ‘place of supply’ is deemed to be the country in which the customer is based. So if you are VAT-registered, you have to account for VAT using the ‘Reverse Charge System’.

Under the Reverse Charge System, you are effectively both customer and supplier. (If you’re thinking “Huh?”, then bear with me, you’re not alone.) Assuming you are based in the UK, you pay VAT at UK rates. If (and only if) you gave Google your VAT registration number when you set up your billing profile, then Google won’t be adding VAT to your bills. (To check if Google has your VAT number, go into AdWords, click on the ‘Billing’ button, then select ‘Billing profile’. You have to fill out an online form with Google to get this status changed.)

 

“So if Google isn’t adding VAT to my bill, who is?”

You are. Or at least, you should be.

 

“How?”

Let’s assume that Google has just billed you £50. This £50 does not include any VAT yet, so you’ll have to work that out. At the time of writing, the UK VAT rate is 20%. 20% of £50 is £10. When you come to do your VAT return, add the £10 to Box 1 of your VAT return. (I’ve seen some people – including some accountants – suggesting that this should go in Box 2, not Box 1, but Box 2 is for goods, not services. The HMRC website says that Box 2 is for “goods that you buy from other EU countries, and any services directly related to those goods (such as delivery charges)”. AdWords doesn’t seem to fit that description, so you need to use Box 1.)

 

You’re not finished though. You also need to add the £10 to Box 4 of the VAT return as input tax. The clever among you will realise that this means that your VAT payable to HMRC has not changed. You’re absolutely right. Finally, don’t forget to add the £50 net invoice to both Box 6 (net sales) and Box 7 (net purchases).

 

“Isn’t that going to be really awkward in my accounting software?”

Quite possibly. Unlucky…

 

 

“What if I’m not VAT-registered?”

Ah, now that’s a little different. The Reverse Charge System does not apply if you aren’t VAT-registered. You need to make sure you’ve told Google that you are a business (again, check your Billing Profile in AdWords). If you haven’t, you won’t be able to change this yourself – you’ll need to contact Google directly to get your business status changed. Google won’t charge VAT on bills to non-Irish businesses. The only thing you need to worry about as far as VAT is concerned is that you need to add the value of the AdWords expense to your turnover when determining whether you must register for VAT.

 

“What if I’m not a business?”

That’s different again. If your AdWords expenditure isn’t for business purposes (or if Google thinks it isn’t – see above), then Google Ireland Ltd will levy VAT at the Irish VAT rate (21% at the time of writing) just as any retailer would. Most advertisers are deemed to be advertising for business purposes.

 

Simple, eh?

Presentation and Impact Training for Young People

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Making the right first impression is important for pretty much everyone in life. Being able to give effective and compelling formal presentations is important for lots of us. One group of people for whom these skills are particularly vital is 17 and 18 year olds.

Why? Well, think about it. At that age, many people will want to go to university – making the right impression in your interviews is vital, especially if you’re applying to the sort of top university where good grades won’t be enough to get you an offer. Other young people will want to enter the world of work. Again, making the right impression on the people who might give you the job you want is vital.

I find that few schools prepare their students for these challenges. That is where our Presentation and Impact for Students training comes in. We always tailor this training specifically to the audience.

Know what impact you make, what impact you want to make - and narrow the gap.

I ran one such course in Devon in August for a group of five year 13 students. As I always do with this kind of training, I tailored the course to the needs of the participants – two wanted to go to university, two wanted to go into the services and one was going to work for his father’s company. The course covered formal presentation training (including video feedback and peer-to-peer coaching) and interview techniques. I also explained how to understand the impact you make on people you are dealing with, the impact you want to make and how to narrow the gap between the two.

Practise presenting in a constructive atmosphere

This was a one day course, with an informal atmosphere, with pricing set to be very affordable.

I love running courses like this – you get fantastic enthusiasm from the participants and the whole day is fun for everyone involved, as well as being a big confidence boost for young people who need all the confidence they can get to go out and get the jobs and university places they want.

“One aspect of the presentation training day that I especially liked was how personable Mark made it. From the offset he did very well at getting to know all of us in and what made us tick. His flexible structure then allowed him to cater to everyone’s individual needs.”

“The main thing I took away from the day was increased confidence to present to an audience. I have, for example, just accepted a Zimbabwe Tourism project which I am going to present to the executives of the leading DMC in South Africa as well as the Zimbabwe tourism Board.”

“The course was one day of intensive training. Mark made us all feel immediately comfortable and welcome, due to the nice surroundings, relaxed atmosphere and several icebreaker activities. The course did not follow a ‘set in stone’ format as Mark changed the structure of the course to tailor it towards each individual so that each participant got the most out of the day. The course provided me with lots of confidence and skills for future presentations and any other professional situation, Mark also helped us iron out any bad habits we may have had. I came away from the course full of confidence and I had a very enjoyable day that was definitely worthwhile.”

For more information on Presentation and Impact Training for Young People, click here.

How to give us access to your Google AdWords account

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OK, so you’ve decided that you want someone qualified to look after your AdWords account, a Google Partner in fact. And let’s assume that you’ve selected us.

Now how do you actually go about giving us access to your account?

What you don’t do is go to the Account Access screen, and add our email address. That approach works for someone who doesn’t already have an AdWords account (someone in your company perhaps), but it doesn’t work for an agency like us.

Instead, what you have to do is email us your AdWords customer ID. That’s the number that you can see in the top right of any AdWords screen. We then use the number to request access to your account. We’ll email you when we’ve done this and ask you to sign back into your AdWords account.

When you next sign in, you’ll see a message saying that we have asked for access to manage your AdWords account. Click the button marked “Yes, I accept. I understand…”

Now email us back and tell us that you’ve done this.

(Assuming you have Administrator access, you can revoke this access at any time.)

How to link your Google Analytics account to your Google AdWords account

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Strangely, not everyone realises you can do this. It’s definitely worthwhile because Google Analytics and Google AdWords working together can tell you a whole lot more about the traffic you are getting from your AdWords ads than the AdWords control centre can on its own.

Not quite so strangely, some people, even when they know that AdWords and Analytics accounts can be linked, struggle to actually do it. Why? Well, this is one of those things that Google has made much more complicated than you’d think would be really necessary. “Surely it would be just a case of clicking a box in AdWords asking you if you want to link your AdWords account to your Analytics account, and then selecting the account to be linked?” you might ask.

 

Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you…?

 

Unfortunately, it’s a little bit more involved than that, and some of Google’s own help pages give the wrong answer and are really unhelpful! So, if you do want to link your AdWords account to your Analytics account (and trust me, if you use AdWords you really do), follow these rather more straightforward (if rather lengthy) instructions…

 

1. Make sure you have rights as ‘Administrator’ to your Analytics account:

a. Sign into Analytics and select your account and profile (if you have more than one)

b. Click on the ‘Users’ tab. Your email address should appear and the role should say ‘Administrator’. If it doesn’t, you will need to ask an existing administrator to give you Administrator level access.

2. Make sure you have rights as ‘Administrator’ to your AdWords account:

a. Sign into AdWords.

b. From the My Account drop down box, select ‘Account Access’.

c. If you can see your email address under ‘Users with account access’ and the access level shows as ‘Administrative access’, you’re fine. If you can’t see your email address at all, but you got this far, don’t worry – it’s probably because you (or someone logged in with your email address) created the account. If that’s the case, and you got this far, you probably do have administrative access.

d. (If you work for an AdWords agency and have an MCC account, you need to go to the MCC screen and then the Account Access screen from there to see what sort of access you have to the accounts in your MCC.)

3. Oh, and the email address that shows as having Administrator access to your Analytics account must be the same email address as the one that shows as having Administrator access to your AdWords account.

4. If you don’t have Administrator access to both products with the same email address, you will need to ask an existing Administrator nicely if he will give you those rights!

5. Sign into your AdWords account, and from the Tools and Analysis drop down menu, select ‘Google Analytics’.

6. Click on the ‘Admin’ button in the top right corner of the page. This shows all the Analytics accounts associated with your login (you may only have the one).

7. Click on the Analytics Account you want to link to.

8. Click on the ‘Data Sources’ tab (next to ‘Properties’, ‘Users’, ‘Filters’ etc).

9. Click on the ‘Link Accounts’ button. (If there is no button, but there is a big green tick, this means your AdWords account is already linked to Analytics.)

10. Select ‘Auto-tag my links’.

11. Select the Analytics profile or profiles that you want to have use with the AdWords data from the drop-down button under ‘Which Analytics profiles should this AdWords Account be linked to?’

12. Click ‘Continue’.

13. You should now see the green tick – congratulations you’ve linked your AdWords and Analytics accounts!

14. AdWords can now send data to Analytics. Go away for a while or a few hours, depending upon how many clicks you expect to see from your AdWords ads, and come back after you’ve had some clicks. Now go into Analytics (either from the Analytics control screen, or from AdWords, by clicking on ‘Tools and Analysis’ and then ‘Google Analytics’), go to Traffic Sources, then Sources, Search and Paid. You should see some data from your AdWords campaign – but nothing before the date you did steps one to thirteen.

 

Website design for Launceston literary festival

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7th – 9th June 2013 Festival, CornwallLaunceston’s Charles Causley Festival, held in Launceston, Cornwall, is an important and well-established poetry and literary festival. The festival had an existing website dating back to the previous year, but it had not been updated since then and festival staff and volunteers lacked the time and know-how to turn the existing site into a site that would effectively communicate all the festival has to offer.

 

 

 

Charles Causley by Peter Edwards RESIZED v2Although working to a tight budget, we were able not only to update the site with this year’s guests, but also to overhaul the site’s look-and-feel. The result is a site that is attractive, informative and easy to navigate. We were also able to satisfy the client’s desire for a site that would promote not just the festival and the poetry of Charles Causley, but the town of Launceston itself.

Some businesses throw money at a problem; some businesses throw time at a problem. There is a third way…

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Quite often at Clare Associates we find ourselves picking up the pieces of previous attempts to solve business problems, especially with the company website. Usually these problems can be traced back to the decisions taken when this website was first developed.

The first type of business has money to spend, but no time. They say to their expensive web designer “We need a website. Here’s lots of money, go and make it happen.” The expensive web designer goes away and creates a fantastic looking website. It’s got everything – fancy effects, beautiful photography, even the buttons have that lovely rounded feel. For some reason, expensive web designers often come from an art and design background rather than an IT background, so they do what they know best.

The second type of business has rather more time than the first. They’ve done a little research and they don’t think they can afford an expensive web designer. But they can afford that son of a friend who knows how to “do websites” and who won’t be very expensive. And in any case, he’ll have the time to keep improving the site, adding more content and generally keeping it up to date.

To be honest, neither of these approaches is likely to get the business the website it needs. The first, expensive, website will look good, but it is going to be difficult to keep it up to date with new products and news about the company. It might not show up in search engines as well as it should. The second, cheap, website will be cheap, but it might look clunky and old-fashioned. And the company may still depend on this son of a friend to make occasional updates.

There is a third way. Continue reading

We’re well into the 21st Century now. So why does so much marketing feel like we’re still in 1900?

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Marketing historians will sometimes tell you that marketing in anything resembling a modern sense began somewhere between the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th century. Since that time, marketing has supposedly become more scientific, more enlightened, more aware.

Looking around today at the approach taken by quite a few companies, I’m not so sure. Continue reading

Entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs – don’t waste your time on gurus, just get out there and work!

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Many years ago, back in the first dotcom boom, I was working for one of the Big 4 accountancy firms. As the office “eCommerce Champion”, one of my jobs was to try to flog stuff to advise dotcom startups. Some senior partner had observed that “the best way to make money in a gold rush is to sell shovels”, so that’s what we were supposed to do. Even better than that, if we were to lend people the shovels / support at no cost to the plucky dotcom entrepreneur, we would make even more money out of them when they became massively successful and had their inevitable stock market IPO.

Of course, it didn’t work out like that. Very few of those dotcom startups actually got off the ground. The most common problem I encountered was that many of these entrepreneurs had no idea of their own limitations. And just like kids who watch X-Factor and think they’ll be a successful pop star when they grow up, these wannabe entrepreneurs had been to too many startup conferences, heard gurus spout buzzwords and motivational pep talks at them and hundreds of other wannabes, and come away thinking that they were going to be the next Martha Lane-Fox.

Continue reading

Forcing people to do things they don’t want to do is no way to build a team

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There was a fad a few years back for companies to send teams of employees (or maybe just managers) on a certain kind of ‘team-building’ activity. These would always be outdoors and would involve some strenuous (and often muddy) physical activity, maybe paintballing or even an army assault course.

I’ve seen a few of these in my time and enjoyed some. I’ve also occasionally managed to be “too busy” or have holiday “already booked” for ones that I really didn’t fancy. One department I used to work in did actually have a real army assault course as a team building activity. That was one of the ones I managed to be “too busy” for. Of course I heard the stories the following week. Apparently the worst bit was a pipe submerged in muddy water that you had to hold your breath and crawl through. Now that doesn’t sound very pleasant to me, and not surprisingly, some people flat out refused to do it. Other (less senior or less strong-willed) people didn’t want to do it but did it either because of peer pressure or because they felt they were expected to do it by the enthusiastic senior people in the department. (The unenthusiastic senior people were the ones like me who stayed away.) Continue reading