Syria Air Strikes: What do the UK public think?

Here are the results of a survey of 1,044 people in the UK asking whether the UK government should carry out air strikes against ISIS in Syria. The exact question wording was as follows:

“Should the UK Government carry out air strikes against ISIS in Syria?”

All answers were gathered between 13:52 & 19:40 on Wednesday 2nd, December 2015, at the time the motion was being discussed in Parliament. Below are the overall results, followed by splits by Gender, Age, and Region.

Topline Results

There were 1,044 responses. Unweighted the results came at 43.3% against air strikes, 30.0% in favour, 26.7% undecided.

The weighted responses (778 demographic profiles available) came out as follows:


  • The result was statistically significant. “No” in answer to the question “Should the UK Government carry out air strikes against ISIS in Syria?”
  • Further breakdown:
    • Women were more likely to say “No” than men (42.1% women; 39.6% men)
    • Older age groups were more likely to say “Yes” than younger groups.

Results by Gender

Below are results split by male / female responses.

Male Responses

Female Responses

Results by Age Range

Below are responses split by age group.

18-24 Age Group

25-34 Age Group

35-44 Age Group

45-54 Age Group

55-64 Age Group

65+ Age Group

Results by Region




(note: Just 32 responses from Wales, so not enough to judge. Included for completeness)

Northern Ireland

(note: Just 14 responses from Northern Ireland, so not enough to judge. Included for completeness)

About the Data

Here’s the sampling bias that was used for weighting (vs the Internet Population of the UK)

All data was gathered by asking the question of UK internet users, between 2pm and 8pm on 2nd December 2015. Users were browsing a mixture of news sites, reference sites, mobile apps, and other general interest websites. As with all polling, there are many caveats on this data, I do not list these in there entirety, but feel free to ask if you are intested.

I fund all polling myself. Do share this post if you find it useful. Feel free to ask any further questions, or follow me on Twitter (@danbarker) if you find this of interest.

“Electric Jukebox” & Forgetting to Register Domain Names

Here’s a very short tale about spending what looks like millions on launching a digital product, without paying attention to the basics of digital marketing. It is about “Electric Jukebox”, a service that has just been launched, with Stephen Fry, Robbie Williams, Sheryl Crow, and various other celebrities on board.

Electric Jukebox is billed as a simple music streaming service, controlled by a remote control unit, aimed at people who don’t use Spotify or Apple Music. The launch was covered by the BBC, Wired, the Telegraph, the Guardian, and dozens of others.

Here’s a photo of Robbie Williams – taken from the press material – holding the Electric Jukebox remote:

And in case the high profile celebrities aren’t enough to convince you there is money behind the launch, here’s their advisory board:

I’d guess that their combined worth is somewhere in the billions.

The service is aimed at UK people. So, where would you expect to find further information about this on the web? Or to buy it (it costs £149 for the first year)? Probably at After all, “” is the standard for UK-based commercial entities.

But, at the time of launch, here’s what you’d find if you visited that site:

If you dug a little bit further, you’d find they’d bought the .com, but this is what happened when trying to find the owner of the domain:

Maybe they’d gone for ‘’ instead? After all, Stephen Fry is involved in the promotion, and he was also involved in the launch of the shorter ‘.uk’ domains last year. Sadly not: They had the “.com”, but had completely forgotten to buy any of their UK domain names. That’s a mistake for a few reasons:

  • If the service is a success, it is an asset they will need.
  • If a domain squatter buys the domain, it can costs many thousands to buy it from them, or tedious legal negotiation.
  • Many people in the UK still type in domain names directly, rather than searching Google.
  • Literally the only reason for not owning the domain is oversight. The cost of it is a rounding error to them.

In other words, they have spent what looks like millions signing up advisors & celebrities, produced launch videos, a combined physical & digital product, organised music licensing, and much more, but forgotten to spend the fiver on the most important digital asset they could have bought: the main domain name for the country they’re focussed on.

(If anyone from ElectricJukebox is reading this – feel free to get in touch – you are welcome to & for free)

Is There Really a “£500 Bed Under The Stairs” in London?

Here’s a tweet that sums up the depressing state of the London property market. You may well have seen this:

Only… if you spend 2 minutes looking into it, it may not be all it seems.

As you can see, it was retweeted well over 4,000 times (probably many more if you take into account quote retweets, that don’t show up in the number). It was also picked up by various news outlets, including the BBC, the Mirror, Sky News, the Metro, the Telegraph and many, many more:

Looking into it further, the first 4 oddities are:

  1. The tweeter started directing the ‘story’ to various newspaper twitter accounts, very shortly after sharing it.
  2. The twitter account had been fairly inactive for a while up until this point, and then suddenly seemed very active.
  3. If you look closely at the photos – something is quite odd. The ‘bed’ doesn’t actually seem to be a bed – it’s just a folded up duvet on the floor. The pillow has no pillowcase. The items in the room are the sort of items you’d find in a utility room, or a cloakroom. In other words, it doesn’t actually look like the room is used as a bedroom – just like it’s been hastily mocked up to look like a room containing a bed.
  4. Pretty much every news article mentions (and links to) a particular website “London2Let”, where the tweeter says she found the room. That’s a detail, but quite surprising that almost every article contains it.

And following on from that with a couple of quick Google searches, it continues to look odd. A google search for ‘alex lomax’ doesn’t show up very much, but one for ‘alexandra lomax’ along with PR-related terms shows up this:

‘Redbrick Communications’ – the employer mentioned there – is a PR firm, whose website says one of their specialist areas is the housing market. That perhaps may trigger a little alarm: PR firms essentially specialise in getting the messages of their clients out to the general public. Often they do that specifically by trying to ‘place’ stories in the media. Sometimes those stories are judged on column inches (whether the client’s name is mentioned in articles), sometimes over recent years they have begun also to be judged on links (a link from a high quality site is worth a little from the point of view of the visits it will bring directly; a link is also more highly valued on the basis that it may cause Google to rank a particular site higher in the search rankings for a given relevant term). So at some stage, the tweeter worked for a PR firm.

If you clicked through the LinkedIn link earlier in the day, you’d find a picture of Alexandra that matched the one in @alex_lomax’s Twitter profile:

If you clicked through a little later in the day, you’d find the profile had suddenly been limited, resulting in this:

That rings another odd alarm bell. Why would someone suddenly set their LinkedIn profile private, while simultaneously soliciting newspapers to cover a story from their Twitter account?

And 2 or 3 further Google searches show that Alex is from Worcestershire where, coincidentally, London2Let’s office address is based (as mentioned by Luke):


Look further still and it continues to look odd. Here’s the ad for the room:

There are a couple of odd things about that:

  1. The wording of the ad. “not really looking for somebody that just wants to stay in their room” sounds like a joke when you think back to the original ad.
  2. The “room comes with a bed” point.

The second point isn’t perhaps immediately obvious, until you remember that the photo of the room didn’t actually contain a bed – just a duvet folded up on the floor:

Look a little further still into the ad and you find this oddity:

Within 40 miles of Westminster, there is only one ad on the entire site from a private landlord. That ad is the one in question. In other words, across the whole of London, there is a single private landlord ad on the site, and that ad happens to be the one that’s gone viral. (note added after a question from Jim Waterson: If you’d like to verify this, go to the London2Let site, search for any london location, set the area as ‘within 40 miles’, choose ‘flatshares’, and untick the option to show ads from agents – ie. private landlords only).


So is the ad real? The answer is I don’t know. Alex didn’t answer when I asked questions about it. I tried to call the advertiser, but they weren’t accepting calls. Some possibilities are:

  • Maybe they’re a hoax advertiser.
  • Maybe Alex is doing PR work on behalf of a company
  • Maybe she’s helping out a friend with a bit of work to help boost their lettings site.
  • Or quite possibly it is real, and I am overly cynical.

The story feels suspicious to me, and there are lots of little red flags if you spend all of 2 minutes digging into it. Lots of the UK’s biggest news outlets seem to have published it without doing those 2 minutes of due diligence. In terms of website traffic, it’s often more important to be quick to publish a developing story than to be thorough. If the story is real, I’ll happily pay Alex’s first week of rent for doubting the story whenever she does find a suitable place (hopefully with a little more space, and an actual bed rather than a folded up duvet on the floor), but the story doesn’t quite add up to me as it has been presented.

Whatever the answer, well done to her on the viral story.

Who would win an election today: Jeremy Corbyn or David Cameron?

In the UK, the main opposition party just appointed a new leader. A man called Jeremy Corbyn. Many of the country’s leading newspapers have since cast him variously as a buffoon, a court jester, a threat to security, a terrorist sympathiser, and various other extremely negative figures. Even newspapers that traditionally support his party seem critical.

On the other hand: His most loyal fans seem to absolutely love him. He increased his Twitter follower count by roughly 100,000 followers in the few days after his election, and there are thousands of vocal people complaining across social media about his treatment by the media & his opponents. Including the Russian Embassy (albeit this is really a dig at the current Prime Minister, than a nod of support for his opponent):

So it’s quite difficult to understand: Was he wildly unpopular outside of the two hundred and twenty something thousand people who voted him in as their party leader? Have those who were sympathetic to him suddenly turned?

I ran a quick survey of 1,000 people in the UK to gather a little bit of data. This doesn’t answer all of the questions above, but does contain the answer to the following question, according to a snapshot of 1,000 people:

“If there was an election today, who would you prefer to become Prime Minister of the UK?”

Here were the results:

In summary: Jeremy Corbyn came out ahead by a very short nose (30.9% vs David Cameron’s 29%). As you can see from the error bars there: it’s too close to call, but from a snapshot of 1,000 responses the two are within a few percentage points of each other.


  • Often polls don’t include the “I don’t want to say” question. In an actual election, voting is not enforced, therefore it’s worth including this potential answer.
  • From the group above, age & gender profiles were available for 800 of the respondents.
  • The data was gathered at the beginning of the week. Opinions change quickly. Let me know if you’d like me to rerun the above now, or in the future. I suspect the result of the survey will swing wildly as Jeremy Corbyn is very much a big news story at the moment, therefore I’ll likely run the survey again shortly.
  • The above data is weighted to match the general internet-using population of the UK.
  • Minor note: The wording should technically be “If there were an election”. I went with the more common “If there was”.
  • Elections in the UK – of course – aren’t decided on the basis of a question like the above. The survey is designed simply to canvas opinion.

Breakdown by demographics

Results from 357 male respondents:

Results from 409 female respondents:

Additional data points:

  • There were 116 responses from Scotland. 29% of those chose ‘Jeremy Corbyn’, 16.8% chose ‘David Cameron’.
  • The overall result of the 22 responses from Wales put Cameron ahead.
  • The overall result of the 16 responses from Northern Ireland put Cameron ahead.
  • Realistically, the numbers are too small from Scotland/Wales/NI to draw any verdicts.
  • In England, where there were 610 responses, the result was closest: 32.5% Corbyn vs 28.5% Cameron. (majority ‘prefer not to say’)

As ever, there are many more nuances & caveats to the above, but the result is interesting nonetheless.

7 Notes on Hillary Clinton’s “#Hillary2016” Digital Campaign Launch

Hillary Clinton has officially announced she’s running for US presidency in 2016. This was all handled rather well online, with a high-production value video, a quick change of all of her social accounts, and the launch of a new campaign site.

Alongside the positives, there were however a few mistakes. None of these were ‘campaign ruining’, but some were surprising tech blunders for such a high profile launch, and some meant they both missed out on potential early traffic to the campaign website and made a few of their bigger supporters look a little foolish.

I’ve catalogued a few of the nicer elements & odd errors here:

1. There are some nice little tech touches on the site.

There are various little nice touches on the ‘Hillary’ site. The site itself is nicely responsive, the code is fairly light, and there are some nice little touches from a technical point of view. For example, here you can see they’ve minified all the tracking code and gone to the trouble of registering ‘’ to have a shorter domain name to serve code from & separate it from the main domain:

One meaningless but neat little touch on the site is a hidden logo within the code itself, as spotted by @bamber123 on Twitter. In the scheme of things this isn’t massive, but it shows some attention to detail, and is the kind of thing that will get a few extra press mentions & some attention among tech-savvy people for very little additional effort:

As a few other tech notes: The site uses a mixture of technologies, sat on Microsoft IIS, with Varnish caching, Amazon server infrastructure, ‘Signal’ (formerly brighttag) for connecting data, both Google Analytics & Yahoo Analytics, and various other tech. Unlike the Obama campaigns, there are no big visible signs of A/B testing (though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not doing it), and unlike many campaigns today they don’t seem to be using an off-the-shelf campaign package like NationBuilder.

There are a few bits of advertising technology on the site, but not a massive amount for a campaign, and certainly nowhere near the scale a big publisher would use. In other words: All seems solid but not massively sophisticated. From the outside it doesn’t even feel as sophisticated as the Obama 2008 campaign from a tech point of view, though it’s early days & I could be severely misjudging it.

2. The Logo is useful as a UI element

There are lots of complaints about the logo on Twitter already – most along the lines of it being too simple, along with many noting its similarity to other logos. I actually don’t think ‘Simple’ is bad at all in this case. It has less depth than the famous Obama ‘Sun rising over a field made from an american flag in the shape of an O’ logo, but it’s very recognisable, the FedEx style arrow obviously indicates speed & forward movement, and – usefully – the arrow on its own works very well as a UI element alongside calls to action, and to draw your eye to important areas on the website:

Alongside the ‘arrow as nudge’ feature, it’s also worth noting they’re using various versions of the logo that work nicely on top of photographs, or in alternate colours. For example:

(As a tiny note on the above – if you look carefully at the logos second from the left & far right, you’ll notice the shade of red differs slightly. Meaningless to most of us, but not the attention to detail of an Obama campaign or an Apple launch certainly)

3. There were some some social miss-steps

Within minutes of the announcement, Hillary’s Twitter & Facebook accounts had been updated to reflect she’s now officially running for president. The logo was updated, a tweet went out announcing her running, and the old ‘frowning in sunglasses on the phone’ header image was replaced by a smiling, screengrab-friendly shot of Hillary.

Within a couple of hours, Espanol content had been put out, and clarity had been added noting that the account will be run by campaign staff from now on with Tweets signed ‘- H’ attributable to Hillary herself:

But… over on the site, a few things hadn’t been updated. For example, one of the core social features of the site is to nudge users to share on Twitter/Facebook. As spotted by @RobDotUk on Twitter, when users share content it’s shared as “http://testserver/thanks” rather than “”. That means firstly they miss out on any social traffic that may come from those tweets/shares, and that they look a little foolish in the eyes of some of their biggest supporters and make those supporters look a little foolish sharing broken links:

Embedded image permalink

Not the end of the world, but still unfixed after a couple of hours, and after many hundreds of these erroneous shares.

From a social point of view, the focus seems largely on Facebook & Twitter. Google+ is not visible among Hillary’s Google Graph profiles. She has launched a Google+ account (at That’s up from 0 to 168 followers in a few hours, but there are no posts:

I’d say that’s more a statement about the perceived importance of Google+ (very low) than about her digital campaign proficiency.

4. The Video

The early coverage of Hillary’s campaign launch focused on her campaign video:


The video is very nicely put together from a production point of view, and a communications point of view, but there was an odd error. Here’s the link to the video within Google results:

As you can see, it simply says “Getting Started”. That’s what they’ve chosen as the title of the video within Youtube. That causes a few issues:

  1. It doesn’t rank within youtube when searching for ‘Hillary Clinton 2016’ or any related terms (ironically, other networks have copied the video & given it a better title, meaning theirs do rank).
  2. From a theoretical point of view it’s less likely to receive clicks from search results. “Getting Started” is far less clickworthy than something like “Getting Started – Official Hillary for America Campaign Launch” for example.
  3. A niche, but interesting point: In March 2015, Youtube added an ‘autoplay’ feature, meaning once a video has finished, the viewer is automatically taken to another related video. In the case of Hillary’s video that means, at present, the video is auto-forwarding to some very odd videos including the below (note her video is called ‘Getting Started’, which is also in the title below):

Not a massive issue, and it will work itself out over time, but I’m sure her campaign team would prefer potential donors to see another Hillary video, rather than “Getting Started on Magic Online for $20”. In other words it indicates again a possible lack of attention to detail, or a gap in digital knowledge.

5. There were also some SEO miss-steps

From an SEO point of view there were a few small miss-steps too. Some of these were fairly small, for example a quick look at the Title tags used on the site shows some messy, simple code errors (see ‘| Hillary for America | Hillary for America” duplication for example):

What won’t have much of a negative impact, but is surprising based on the amount of attention these types of things usually get.

Slightly bigger than that is this:

For those who don’t know what that means, the ‘robots.txt’ file tells bots & web crawlers what they are/are not allowed to view on a site. The line there that says “Disallow: /” tells Google and other search engines not to crawl any pages on the site. As a result, the site still looks like this in Google, rather than showing the new ‘Hillary for America’ branding:

Someone eventually noticed this, and it was fixed around 2.5 hours after the site launched, but this & the odd social blunders are quite surprising for a campaign that is likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars (a ‘Ready for Hillary’ adviser suggested it could be well over a billion).

6. Hillary vs Hilary

Perhaps a pedantic point, but: Looking at Google Trends, it appears that roughly 15% of searchers do not know how to spell ‘Hillary’:

That’s not the end of the world – Google does its usual good job of showing results for the phrase ‘hillary clinton’ if mistyped, but anyone visiting will find themselves at a dead end, and any of the 24,187 people who follow only the fake @hilaryclinton on Twitter will miss out on genuine updates.

As a side-note, there is of course the minor risk there that the account starts tweeting again & causes embarrassment.

Again, these are relatively minor issues, but it should not be a difficult job to buy the typo domain from its current owner, and to claim the impersonating twitter account.

7. The site doesn’t appear to be finished

Alongside the oddities mentioned above, there are various parts of the site that simply aren’t finished. Naturally they’ll extend the site over time, but there are things that are actively broken at the moment.

For example, if you sign up for the email list, the ‘Thank you’ email finishes:  “Stay tuned for more opportunities to get involved with the campaign. In the meantime, ask your friends and family to join us:”. Sadly, clicking the link there takes you to a page that asks you to sign up again, and includes no possibility to share with friends:

This is easy to fix, but – for a site with only a dozen or so pages these are errors that should really have been picked up. Another example is the ‘jobs’ page. Hillary was a speaker at the last SalesForce summit. It now becomes clear why she did that: They’re using SalesForce as the relationship management solution for at least part of the campaign, and the ‘jobs’ element of the site. Here’s how that looks:

Not the end of the world, but:

  1. It doesn’t seem fully finished – there’s no lead-in text at all, and if you submit a half-finished application there are no error messages, or confirmation messages. (and the only field marked mandatory is ‘Last Name’).
  2. If you look carefully, you can see the URL there is ‘’. Hopefully they are correctly storing data submitted, but the inclusion of the word ‘demo’ there indicates that was not supposed to be the live version.

Aside from the 2 examples above there are various other elements that simply appear to be missing from the site, but I won’t labour the point.


Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign launch was nicely done from a digital point of view, with a smooth flipover of the social accounts & some very nice messaging from a communications point of view. There were however some very odd technical, social, and SEO misses.

With every site launch, and every campaign launch, some errors occur. In this case none are campaign-threatening in any way, but, they’re very surprising as some are so basic, the campaign is so massively high profile, the site itself is simple enough to make checking easy, and the team will be very aware – from the messy launch in 2013 – of the reputational damage that can be caused by tech glitches.

Do leave a comment if you have anything to add, or think any of the above is unfair. And do share this post if you think others would find it useful.

Climb Online: Performance After 100 Days

Toward the end of 2014, a man called Mark Wright won “The Apprentice” in the UK, with his idea to create a Search Marketing Agency called ‘Climb Online’.

Just after the show aired, I ran a quick poll asking the question “Do you think Lord Sugar should have invested in ‘Climb Online’?”. After 45 minutes I shared the results in a post:

It’s now been a few months since the show aired, and Mark’s PR team have been in touch with various people to spread the word a little about what he’s been up to. They’ve put out a few of these interviews so far, with the interviewers broadly falling into one of three categories:

  1. Mainstream journalists – eg. the Radio Times.
  2. Digital Marketing blogs – eg. Econsultancy.
  3. People who they perceived had been vaguely critical of Mark.

They thought the blog post I’d written following the show was critical of Mark, and so they asked me if I’d be willing to meet up with him to find out how the business was going. I thought it would be fair & sensible to do that, and also interesting to meet Mark & his PR co.

I therefore spent an afternoon with Mark toward the end of March, at his PR company’s office. The conversation covered various areas from his company’s performance, to search marketing in general, to legal matters, to his plans for the future. This article summarises some of that, and my impression of Mark & the business. The full transcript runs to about 18,000 words, so I’ll keep information here to a summary of the bits I think will be most interesting/useful to a general audience.

[As one tiny note: Mark’s PR company asked me to remove the names of employee names – I thought that was fair enough. Other than that I haven’t altered the transcript, so there’ll be some of the usual ums and ahs of speech included].

Do feel free to add comments/questions/thoughts to the post, or drop me a note at @danbarker on Twitter if you have any questions.

Company Performance & Model

The normal start to something like this might be: “We met at Mark’s PR company. I was late & he was very kind about it. He was wearing the light blue waistcoat & tie he often seems to in publicity shots…” but I will skip right into the detail:

I picked up the following info from the chat:

  • Climb Online have roughly 80 clients at the moment.
  • They haven’t lost a client yet. (Mark was proud of this, though pointed out himself it’s still early days)
  • 63 of their 80ish clients are actually Paid Search clients, not SEO clients.
  • They’re up to around 10 staff.
  • Costs are, and have been, fairly high. The website cost ‘tens of thousands’, Mark says he spends around £13k a month on software, etc…
  • …But the returns are also fairly high: Mark mentions one client pays £6k fees per month. That’s probably not the average, but let’s pretend it is: £6k x 80 clients x 12 months = £5,760,000. Obviously the £6k probably isn’t average, but it’s also likely that the 80 clients will grow over the course of the year.
  • At a lower end, if we factor it down very pessimistically to 10% of the above it becomes a harder business model, but with the amount of leads, the fact it’s profitable at present, and the scope to grow, there is obviously lots of potential if they can execute well

Aside from the back of napkin calculations, the most interesting element among the above is the PPC slant: Every article you read about the company, Mark himself, or most opinions, talk from the stance of them being an SEO company. To those outside of digital marketing that probably makes little difference, but I think the perception within the industry is quite different between pure SEO agencies & pure PPC agencies (or those that lean one way or the other).

While we were chatting, Mark mentioned that the SEO angle almost came about by accident:

“The plan was nothing like Climb Online was. It was a … almost like GoDaddy. My business plan was for a company like GoDaddy. Domain and hosting registry, where you could do PPC services. The way that the show positioned it was to have SEO in there as well.

“Basically, when I went to the interview stage, I met with Claude and Mike and they said, “Why would you ever launch business model similar to” They’re like, “That is ridiculous. Their marketing budget is in the hundreds of millions. The margins in hosting and domains is so small. You’ve got no background in that. However, you’ve got fantastic background in teaching people how to sell, paid search, and SEO is a very similar sales model.” I’m the guy that can train people, with the knowledge in the industry to go out and present it. They said, “If you present that business plan, you’re far more successful.”

“I modified my business plan and, obviously, I won the show. What we got was, I think, what Lord Sugar wanted, was something that was similar to ReachLocal. He’s always won for someone who does what they know. I was presenting from an industry kind of off the back of what I did, but then I went to pitching a business of one I’ve done successfully before, so I think he really liked that. “

As services, they therefore offer PPC as the main service, a specific Retargeting service, SEO, and a Social Media service. As I said, Mark mentions they’re charging a particular client £6,000 per month fees for paid search management. You’d expect those sort of fees for a small-to-medium sized company, rather than very small, which perhaps gives an indication of the size of some of their clients.

Mark also talks about some of the extra services they’re offering:

“Free brand protection. When any company works with us, we trademark your name with Google so people can’t bid on your brand term on ad words and we also trademark anything on your website that we can and the company name to stop trademark infringement. Now, we have that in place for us to clean up the search, but also to protect us in the industry. When we offer that to our customers, and we offer it for free, that is part of our SEO service, which I think is pretty cool, because if a normal small business wanted to do that it could cost them up to seven hundred pounds to do trademarking when we come along and do it for free.”

I’ve never heard of another paid search/SEO agency offering trademark protection, but in honesty I think it’s a sensible idea: Something that differentiates them a little, doesn’t cost a lot, and is the kind of thing that can be added as an extra that’s valuable to the client. [side-note after several comments: I’m not commenting on the effect this has on Google]

Mark also talks of one of the other value-adds they offer as being transparent results in PPC. He’s noticeably more animated talking about paid search, technology, paid search, & sales than he is talking about SEO or Social:

“I mean, a guy that works for me, he can probably set up a campaign better than anyone in the bloody country. If you’re going to go and set up … If you’re a little man in Southampton that’s going to go and set up a Google adwords campaign against us, you’re going to go no good. You’ve got to be more innovative in the way that you think and the way that you’re building the campaigns and what you’re offering the customer. If you go in and do a pitch on a Google adwords campaign and I come in and do a pitch on our search product, I will blow you away because the tools we have are better. The way we report back to the customer on how many leads they’ve had. This guy’s like, “Well, you’ve had a conversion through your form six days ago.” I’m like, “Well, Sandra typed in ‘dentist in Southhampton’ and this is the call. We can listen to the call. This is the keyword. This is the time she came through. There’s Sandra in the chair having her teeth done.” That came from me. “

And he also talks a little bit about a paid search platform that they’ve been putting together:

“It’s interesting, I’ve handled a lot of proposals and I’ve shopped a lot of companies just to look at what they do and everyone’s got a different strategy. What I’ve decided to do … We do adwords management, right? Where you have an adwords campaign, we manage it. We charge you a management fee and you just go in and we change your ad words and it’s running smooth now. We have what we call our “paid climber”, which we’ve got our own platform for. Sits … Your campaign sits in our platform and the ads consider across Facebook, Bing, Yahoo, and Google, and it’s constantly monitoring for the lowest CPC and conversion rate and it will factor in where you’re getting the lowest CPA and start showing your ads there more. It’s more of a product than just adwords management because ad words management is quite boring”

He clarifies this a bit later on, mentioning the various networks it covers:

“You look what happens to some of the keywords in the past year alone. I don’t think … Okay, here’s what I think: I don’t think the competition is as great as the price rise in the CPCs. I think that Google are forecasting that the lifespan of Google ad words is coming to an end in the foreseeable. Let’s turn the dial up on the CPCs and make as much revenue from this as possible. Maybe. Maybe not. I think that’s what’s happened, because if I was at the head of that business, that’s what I would do. I would say, “Right. This has probably got three, four years left. At the volume that people are joining this, sort of, form of advertising, let’s increase the price, because they’re still going to see return. Make money from it. Then see what happens next. What we’ve gone away and done is say, “Let’s not concentrate all of our areas there. We’ll set the campaign up in our platform. We’ll show the ads on every form of search: Google, Yahoo, Bing, Right Media Network, Google Display, whatever it might be. YouTube. Show the ads there. Show it where we can get the lowest cost per lead. Then the customer is still winning. If that becomes achievable due to price, we’ll find the conversions elsewhere. That’s what’s working for us.”

And finally he talks about this in the context of the market:

“Marin’s good, Kenshoo’s good, Acquisio’s good, and a lot of agencies are building their own platforms. I mean, a lot. You know, this used to be unachievable and cost millions to do this stuff. It is now … It’s still expensive. It could cost you a hundred grand, but you could have a really good, responsive platform. I’ve trialed Marin, I’ve trialed Acquisio, Kenshoo wouldn’t touch us because we weren’t big enough, which was a real shame because they are a good platform.”

Digital Performance

Strangely, one of my own websites has ranked in Google UK for ‘Climb Online’ more or less since the show aired. As a result, I have a little bit of data for the search volume associated with Mark’s business. Here’s a graph of rough Google search impressions for the phrase (47,865 in total over 3 months). As you can see, the bulk of searches came at the start, but there are some upward bumps along the way (these roughly correlate with PR activity):


Mark himself says: “We’re getting up to forty thousand visits a day. Whenever Lord Sugar tweets the business, the site nearly crashes, just from, he’s got four point one million followers on Twitter. You get a percentage of that visiting your website, god … It peaks. The CloudFlare starts to throw a few warnings at us. Which is good. “

On the CloudFlare point, he’s referring to the content delivery network they’ve been using to protect against attacks. Along with the general trolling on social media, his site has had various negative SEO attacks and denial of service attacks. Mark & his team hadn’t anticipated that, and initially didn’t have anything in place to deal with it. He credits that as one of the elements that held up their website launch. Here’s the site that eventually launched:

This was one of the big criticisms of Climb Online’s digital performance – that the site launched so late (it fully launched more than 2 months after the show aired).

Here’s how the conversation went around that:

  • Mark: We had a website ready to go three weeks in. We just put it out a couple of weeks ago because we’re getting attacked so heavily that we couldn’t risk putting a website that’s cost tens of thousands of pounds out on the internet.
  • Me: That’s probably something I would have done differently as well. I’d have made the website cheaper.
  • Mark: But have you seen it? It’s a good website isn’t it?
  • Me: Well it …
  • Mark: It’s probably revolutionary.
  • Me: You’re playing on your charm now.
  • Mark: I’d say that, you know …
  • Me: It’s definitely not revolutionary. It’s a nice website, but it’s …
  • Mark: Well, I look at your website …
  • Me: As I said, I do not try to sell myself in the slightest. I’ve two websites. I really should have redirected one to the other one several years ago. One of my websites, I haven’t updated it since 2008. When I bought the .dj and when I bought the one I just talk about general stuff, and that’s it. I don’t really tell anybody who I work for. I showed you that. That’s not out there anywhere. I don’t try to sell myself.
  • Mark: Would you say our site’s innovative?
  • Me: Well, to be honest, I deal with so many websites, no. I wouldn’t say it’s innovative. I’d say it’s kind of good. It’s responsive, which is great. It gets across some of your message, which is good. Really, you don’t need an innovative website. You don’t need a revolutionary website. Your gift is that you have a very public-facing profile and as long as the website doesn’t look bad, you’re fine.
  • Mark: Yeah. Interesting.
  • Me: I hope that doesn’t hurt you.
  • Mark: No, no.
  • Me: It’s somebody else that built the thing. I acknowledge, my website is awful.
  • Mark: No. No, that’s all right. I really like it. I mean, the thing that I … My little touch on it, you know, SEO, PPC, these things are boring, and what I went and did is I made Climb Online so we changed it to the paid climber, social climber, I wrote all the content. Then we had an illustrator go and draw all of the imageries and buttons that are on the website and we’ve trademarked all of those. We’re creating something different, which I think is quite cool. We could have just called it SEO, PPC and been like everyone else out there. It’s little things like that which I really enjoyed. Which is probably boring. Sounds horrendous.

You can tell from this he really is very proud of the site. I think he oversells it a little, which naturally will lead to criticism from people who feel it doesn’t match up the ‘revolutionary’ claim. But – assuming the same pride transfers across to the work they do for clients – that’s a very good thing & .

On Criticism of Mark’s Digital Marketing & SEO Knowledge

Mark’s had a lot of criticism across social media. Some of that was based on things he said during his appearance on The Apprentice (actually I think pretty much everyone on the show gets some sort of criticism on social media as the show airs, as well as many gaining big fans). He’s also had quite a lot of criticism from people within the ‘SEO industry’. Some of that’s direct criticism for things he’s said; some of it’s concern & annoyance from people who work in SEO, and some of it is pure trolling.

I think really there are a few things at the root of the criticism:

  1. People like to point out mistakes, and they like to point out when they think people are not being entirely genuine.
  2. Mark positioned himself – or was positioned – as an SEO expert in order to win The Apprentice. His actions & words afterward didn’t completely match up with that.
  3. Mark is a very good communicator in real life, and on TV. But he’s fairly new to social media.
  4. Alongside all of the above: There are genuine trolls who just like to make fun of people, and/or try to get a reaction, and/or in some cases actually try to damage peoples’ businesses.


On the ‘mistakes’ point, Mark makes a few during our chat. For example one of the first things he said to me was “I’m speaking at SEOBrighton next month. Have you heard of SEOBrighton before?”. The conference he’s talking about is ‘BrightonSEO’ – a point that will be lost on people outside the industry, but a mistake few within digital marketing would make. In the grand scheme of things, this is a meaningless error, but it’s a little tell that he is not the expert he sold himself as on the show.

SEO Expert?

He jokes about the ‘SEOBrighton’ thing a few times later after I point it out, and on the ‘SEO Expert’ point he’s completely up front:

“I don’t know that much about SEO, and this is the thing that I think most people are surprised when they meet me is they think I’m an SEO expert. My background is in paid search.”

These little mistakes continue as we chat, for example having told me he’s not an SEO expert he clarifies that he is an expert in other areas:

  • Mark: “PPC on the other hand you can ask me any question in the whole world and I’ll answer it as well as anyone at Google would.”

Very rudely, I then took the bait & asked him a PPC question:

  • Me: “What does RLSA stand for?”
  • Mark: “Mate I’ve no idea. RSLA…”
  • Me: “RLSA.”
  • Mark: “What does it mean?”
  • Me: “Remarketing Lists for Search Ads”

Again, that’s fine – 99.99% of the population won’t know what RLSA stands for either, but it’s another little tell that Mark’s a bit overconfident in his digital marketing knowledge.

Mark’s Background & the Company

Following up on the above, Mark’s experience was working for a firm called Reach Local. As I’d mentioned earlier they have a similar business model to his new company. He worked for them purely in Paid Search Sales. He clarifies that he never got involved in the SEO side of things – his background had been in the sales side of Paid Search.

“I never got involved in the SEO side. I was in the sales team for the PPC, then I went to sales manager, then I went to manager for the business, so my background had been in the sales side of PPC. Nothing technical about SEO. Now, my knowledge is far better than anyone you’d meet on the street, but am I someone that can implement an SEO strategy for you if you want? Open up your site now and said, “Right. We want some links. We want it W3C compliant, etc. etc.”? I’d be like, “I know everything you’re saying and I know that that’s going to be relevant, but I’m not the guy to do that. My team, probably one of the best in the country, will be building one of the SEO teams in the country to implement SEO strategy, but it’s not me sitting in there writing the articles, doing the links. That’s just not my thing.”

With that context, some of the criticism that he’s not an expert makes perfect sense.

New to Social Media

On the ‘new to social media’ point, I think this is perhaps the best example:

Read one way, that’s a friendly joke. Read another, it comes across as bragging & a bit aggressive. Having met Mark, it’s quite obvious that it’s the former. Prior to meeting Mark, I would have assumed it was the latter.

On Hiring

Having been open that his knowledge of SEO isn’t huge, I ask Mark how he goes about hiring people. A common difficulty in digital areas is that the people doing the hiring are less technically savvy than the people they need to hire.

“When I say I’m not an expert, it’s like, I never want to claim to be things that I’m not. I’m an expert salesman, an expert sales manager and manager of people, and I’m really expert in those areas. I’ve got a base knowledge of SEO. I’ve read, you know, I read search engine blogs. I read Moz. I love Moz.”

“People actually, and this is really funny … Someone tweeted “How Mark Wright Learned About SEO” and it was the “Moz’s Startup Guide, Beginner’s Guide to SEO”. Do you know I actually read that and I laughed because they were taking a piss. What’s wrong with a beginner guide to Moz’s SEO, you know? I don’t understand why … I actually read that whole thing and I thought it was absolutely brilliant and I think Moz are very top of their game with SEO. They’re really, really on it. I use it as a software tool for my personal campaigns and for our website, you know, to monitor keyword changes and link opportunities. I think it’s fantastic. It’s quite funny, but I don’t claim to be an expert. I have a very good knowledge of each section. I claim to be a sub-expert in paid search, as you’ve already tested me on.”

Separately he talks about this from another angle:

“Well, you know, if we look at the industry, or online marketing as a hundred percent, I might know twenty percent. This twenty percent here which is selling, managing, and training people on basic knowledge of online marketing. My guy, who sets up all my other paid search campaigns, he knows this much in the industry, but he knows the bit about paid search really well. The person who does my SEO, he knows thirty percent of the SEO piece really, really well, so it’s about getting one hundred percent for people. No one knows it all, other than the, you know, guys at Google who create the game that we play. Someone might know SEO ten times better than me, which wouldn’t be hard, but they can’t sell it near as good as I could sell it. But I can’t implement the campaign as well as they can so why don’t we just work together to make it that much easier for everyone. Let me be the face of it. Let me make online marketing perceivable and, you know, really … Help me make online marketing, you know, the shiny thing out there for businesses. Then people can go and implement the strategy any which way they want to. That’s, you know, no way’s the wrong way.”

And he expands on this still further:

“I’ve been very lucky with the staff I have. I have a knack for knowing people very, very well. I can sit with someone and I can tell your expertise straight away, even if I haven’t made you open up a website and show me how you can code, or show me how you build links, or put you on the weeks trial. I can sit with you and know in ten minutes whether you’re going to be the right guy and I don’t even read CVs. It’s just the … This is my power in business. You know, I may not have the same knowledge of SEO as someone, but I know your knowledge just as well as you do. Just through conversation I get people to tell me … When I first started interviewing for our Head of SEO role, I met with about fifteen different people and I said to me, “Describe to me what SEO means.” Every person gave me a different explanation.”

If I’m overly honest at this point, I think Climb Online will succeed, but it’s crucial they hire at least a few of the right people. I haven’t met Mark’s team – he heaped praise on them throughout our chat, but he also mentioned that he doesn’t read CVs. Elsewhere he also mentioned one of his employees and told me: “He was the Head of SEO for Wonga”. I thought to myself “I’m sure I know the head of search at Wonga…”, so I looked up the employee Mark was talking about, and here was his experience at Wonga:

It’s easy to make mistakes like this – he’s running a business that’s been going for 100 days, picked up 80 clients, and hired 10 staff. It’s hard in such a short amount of time to stay 100% on top of everything, and most likely the ‘head of SEO for Wonga’ comment was a slip of the tongue. But, if not a slip of the tongue, it may be worth checking on employees a bit closer. I think that’s particularly important around SEO as opposed to Paid Search. Whereas Paid Search is largely transparent, and there are very defined rules, it’s relatively easy to break someone’s site or business by getting things wrong from an SEO point of view.

On Paid vs Organic Search

We had a fairly long conversation around paid vs organic, and around the value Mark offers to companies. I thought I’d include some of that verbatim here as some of it was interesting, it reinforces their ‘paid’ perspective,.

  • Mark: Oh, no thank you. Well, the thing is is I try not to … I don’t want to ever offend people, you know? I always want to be seen as someone who’s contributing to online marketing and I have my way and I’m very spoken about my way. If someone asks me my way, I’ll tell them my answer. It might not be on Google, under their new update. My view is my view and the industry and people choose to partner with me because I challenge things. I think that Google this year will make an announcement that people that do Adwords with them will get preferential favoring through SEO. Now, someone hearing that from the SEO industry would have my neck for saying that, but, if I put myself in Google’s shoes, and I’m running a business and someone’s spending money with me and someone’s not, I’m going to give that person favorable, favorable ways of dealing with my business other than someone who’s not. I’m sure that that announcement will come.
  • Me: You’re sure?
  • Mark: Yeah.
  • Me: Should we make a bet?
  • Mark: Well, it will happen and I think it will happen this year.
  • Me: Yeah?
  • Mark: Because imagine if they do that how many more people will use Google Adwords? If you say that’s going to help your natural listing?
    Me: Well it’s sort of the opposite. If that’s going to help their natural listings, then that’s really slightly less money for Google. From their point of view, the worse someone’s performing on generic search, the more likely they are to spend on Adwords.
  • Mark: Potentially. Potentially. I don’t know. It’s more … That’s not for us to decide, that’s for the customer.
  • Me: That’s for the customer?
  • Mark: That’s for the customer to decide. If you say, “You’re not ranking well on Google, so should you spend more money on SEO … “
  • Me: No, I’m talking about from Google’s point of view.
  • Mark: Oh, from Google’s point of view.
  • Me: The thing is that they do seem to … make it a bit harder to do organic search and also make it harder to manage your paid search stuff more granularly for small people.
  • Mark: Well, that, you know, I’m sure you’ve had an adwords account where you get the suggested changes drop down on the top right hand side, you click that, it doesn’t tend to improve the campaign. All it does is tend to make it spend a lot quicker and a lot more. I mean, Google’s a fantastic business and I think it’s just amazing. Absolutely amazing. What they do is they arm their Google Adwords platform, which is very complex, but they make it look very easy to use. That’s why I run Google Adwords and it didn’t work, and I go “let me open up your campaign” and they’ll have three key words and then no negatives. One ad’s running with six pound bids on the keyword and one ad’s whatever and it’s just spending money, not getting any conversions. No conversion tracking setup.
    You go, “Well of course it’s not working. You haven’t … ”
    They go, “Oh, well I know you couldn’t make this any better.”
    “Well, did you know you should have a local and international site of the campaign? You should have over a hundred and fifty negatives in here under this ad group here.” They go, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
    You say, “This is why … ”
    I’ve only got basic knowledge. If I give this to some … one of my campaign performance managers, they spend ten days building the campaign, doing keyword researches and SEMrush on your competitors, using the keyword planner, talking with Google to make this run effectively. You’ve built that in an hour and you wonder why it’s not working. No disrespect. If you’re a mechanic, I don’t know what to look for under my car. I don’t expect you to know what to use on the Google platform. Google have built it that way. People will go, “Oh, this looks pretty simple.” Click, click, click. It’s almost like a slot machine. Here’s my Visa card. Wonder if we’ll get any leads. It just goes [tonk 01:24:03], takes a thousand quid, and not much happens. Thank god it is like that because when we go in and work with their campaigner, we get good results. One thing that does frustrate me about this space is when I sit with a customer … Sorry I’m talking so much!
  • Me: Don’t worry about it.
  • Mark: One thing that does frustrate me is I go in and I sit with a customer and they say, “Oh, we don’t need you. I can do this all myself.” Now, that must even frustrate someone like you more who’s worked probably twice as long, definitely two or three times longer than me in the industry than me. I’ve worked in the industry for, say, five years full-time. Right? Learning, reading, seeing customers everyday. I know this much about an industry that’s this big. Right? So I’m here. John the plumber saying he can do it all himself because he goes and runs an Adwords account, it’s like me going and saying to my lawyer, “Don’t worry. I’ve got this one.” He’s done years of reading and studying and learning his craft every day. Six years of study to get there. Our industry is no different. People have read every blog, watched every update with Google, seen Adwords go from, sort of, a couple of keywords in an ad group to these massively granular campaigns that have changed businesses. People have still got to study and learn the same for us as they have for being a doctor or a lawyer. You’ve still got to beat at your craft every day and you can’t do it yourself. You need to use an expert. That’s why we exist, because my guys have been there ten years, reading, you know, search engine land and all of this Moz and stuff because they’re beating at their craft, and that’s why they should use us. Don’t know if you agree about that.
  • Me: Well, no. That makes sense. Yeah, or it’s something that changes all the time as well. Like you said, there’s new technology next week. You’ll have to read up on it. All those kind of things. I suppose that’s sort of why when you were talking about people that criticize you at the start, if they just perceive it as being you, and actually you’re saying “I actually don’t know that much about the industry.” That makes sense, because they’ve … They think you’re saying: “I know everything about this.” When really, as you say, you’ve got this team that you’ve hired. You say, I don’t know who they are, but you say, “These are the real experts.”

On Mark’s Targets

Finally, I ask Mark whether he has particular targets for the company, or for himself.

Mark: “For myself, I’ve always sort of wanted to be a businessman. I don’t know … I didn’t know what type of business when I was younger. I just wanted to be a businessman. Now I know I want to be in online marketing. The reason why is because it’s challenging. It’s really hard. Really, really hard. The amount of reading you’ve got to do just to stay in today’s game is a lot. I have targets for myself to grow a big company. I would like to be the biggest agency in the country in five years. Wouldn’t that be amazing for me to walk in and have, you know, the Periscopix, the Jellyfish, and when you walk in there and I’ve got a hundred guys selling. I’ve got thirty guys implementing, you know, SEO. I’ve got thirty guys running Google ad words campaigns. We’ve got people doing Google shopping. We’ve got people doing this. We’ve got people filming videos, or whatever. That is the dream, you know? The all-encompassing online marketing agency that is, you know, pushing the boundaries in the UK. That would be great. For myself, as an individual … “

“It all, for me, it starts with the client. As long as we’ve got happy customers out there, people in the industry can say bad things about me. That’s fine. I just don’t want my customers saying bad things about us. That’s all that matters. Start with the customer and work back […] touch wood, we haven’t lost a customer.”

I point out that the company is only 100 days old:

Mark: “We’re a hundred days in and we haven’t lost a customer. Which sounds like, “Oh sure”. You know? Whatever. That’s really important. We need people to be happy with prices we offer, service we offer, and the consultation they get from my staff. If that’s getting it wrong, then I’ve got people to answer to.”


Here are a few takeaways I took from my chat with Mark. Do feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments:

The Apprentice & Hostility: One oddity of The Apprentice is that it’s accidentally rigged in such a way that the winner’s chosen industry is often hostile against them. The purpose of the show is to take someone who would not normally be at the forefront of their industry, and place them there. In many industry’s that’s a lonely place to be; in digital marketing I think if you’re upfront with people they’ll embrace you. Mark made a few miss-steps around the launch of his site, and around social response, but I think he has an opportunity to fix all of that & seems to be trying to take that opportunity. From a ‘client’ point of view I don’t think it makes a huge difference if Mark is embraced by other digital marketers, but from a hiring & partnerships point of view it’s obviously important.

Brand Marketing: Climb Online is doing very well from a leads & closing point of view. I think the ‘leads’ part basically indicates ‘brand marketing’ can be very successful within digital marketing. Most SEO/Search/Digital agencies use direct response & relationship building to grow their clients (ie. largely B2B channels). Mark himself mentioned Go Daddy earlier – another company that’s done very well from ‘above the line’ advertising, targeting smaller businesses.

Albeit much smaller than GoDaddy, I think that’s basically the formula that’s working for Mark: He is in the position of having gained a massive amount of ‘general population’ publicity as someone who offers digital marketing services, and it has driven a lot of leads. That is something that other search/digital agencies – if they are able – could learn from. On the surface that perhaps sounds hard, but in reality it’s not too difficult to appear as a talking head on TV News, etc.

Mark Himself: Mark comes across as a very nice guy in real life. He’s obviously a good salesman, and that’s a big focus, but he is also an open, honest man who genuinely cares about what he’s trying to do, about learning, about his team. He has handled the big pressure, and the interesting position he’s ended up in very well so far. He’s had a lot of criticism, yet is still happy to turn up at big industry events like Brighton SEO and to chat to anyone who’s willing to say hello.

Mistakes: The original post I’d written on Climb Online referenced a series of mistakes I thought Mark had made. Mark & his PR company explained that some of that was due to the mechanics of the TV show. I still think some elements were mistakes, or perhaps naivety/good faith: Not finding a way to get the domain name (I was offered it at one stage for $2k), not getting the site online earlier, etc. Others have been super critical of smaller things like minor SEO issues on his site, etc, but I think he’s done well focusing on publicity, starting to find his feet growing a team, and figuring out his product offering, etc.

Company Focus: It’s very obvious that the larger focus of the company at present is Paid Search, with SEO & Social being smaller. I think that may change, as they’re in the interesting position of having the ability to drive digital marketing leads in high volumes from smallish businesses, and with that no doubt come requests for web design, email, content, and more. The challenge will of course be growing a great team, building partnerships & trying to smooth his ‘industry-facing’ profile, client service, and of course pure executional focus. These are big tasks, and I very much look forward to seeing how the business continues & where the focus moves.

The Big Question

In the original poll I’d run at the end of the show I’d asked whether Lord Sugar should have invested £250k in the business.

I thought it would be sensible to run an update now that the company is up & running: On the basis of what’s happened since, and what you’ve seen of their performance, what do you think?

[poll id=”2″]

As ever: Do share this post if you found it at all interesting, and do comment below if you have any thoughts – I always try to be balanced, but your opinion may differ.

5 Business Rules from Eric Schmidt

Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg have been touring the world talking about ‘How Google Works’. Eric is the former CEO of Google, and current ‘Executive Chairman’, Jonathan is the former SVP of Products at Google. Much of the talk was a condensed version of their book “How Google Works”, but there were a few extras in there, and a short Q&A at the end.

I wrote a series of notes on my phone during the talk. Here they are,  marginally expanded for legibility:

1. “Revenue solves all problems (especially of you’re president of a country or a CEO)”

The overall message of this discussion was that Eric Schmidt’s biggest role within Google was to bring money in & grow it from that point of view. Eric put forward that his overriding rule for whether something should happen or not was “revenue solves all problems”. If there was a big dispute in direction to be settled, that was the guiding principle he often turned to.

That sounds obvious, but often writing around Google concentrates on the ‘non-money’ parts of things: big, bold innovations that have no obvious short-term money making potential; products that are very interesting, but less commercial, etc. The suggestion I took from this discussion was that the ‘real’ Google is deliberately a money making machine, which enables all of the rest to happen, rather than a group of massively exciting ideas that also coincidentally makes money.

2. “Avoid the tipping point in knave density”

Quite a buzzword packed point: This was really a discussion between Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg. Jonathan suggested that – aside from general team members – there are 2 types of people to be particularly aware of & to act when they are identified:

  • Knaves – people who claim credit that’s not really theirs, people who cause problems in groups, people who gossip, etc.
  • Divas – people who are excellent at what they do, have the ability to produce excellent things, but are hard to manage, do not necessarily fit in socially, and are prone to upsetting other people.

On Knaves, Jonathan Rosenberg said: “People that leak, people that cheat, people that lie and steal: we fire them.” – Jonathan Rosenberg

On Divas, the point was that these people can appear similar to ‘knaves’, but that an organisation wishing to achieve success should fight hard to keep them. These are people who are capable of delivering immense value, but in normal day-to-day environment can be difficult to work with. A couple examples I’ve seen him mention elsewhere as ‘divas’ were Steve Jobs & Serena Williams. I’m not sure either of them would have wanted to work for Google, but the suggestion is if they did, Google should fit in with their behaviour as much as possible, rather than the other way round.

Jonathan suggested that the point at which a company’s culture becomes poisoned is when the ‘knave density’ reaches a tipping point. I guess for a small company, that could be a single person, for a larger company it may depend on both the ‘density’ and their position.

3. “Recruiting turns out to be crucial”

Eric Schmidt felt: “Most people pay lip service, but they aren’t really systematic.” He suggested Google has thoroughly tested interview systems and that, for them, five interviews per candidate is the ideal amount (he didn’t qualify whether this was specifically for engineers, or for all jobs, but I expect it doesn’t span to every role).

He mentioned a couple of other experiments they’d carried out:

  • A system that simply asked employees once per week what they were doing, how they felt, etc. This turned out to be good for organisational memory, and for spotting potential problems.
  • A period where they went through assigning 120 direct reports to 1 executive. They found that this cut out all possible micromanagement and, while probably not scalable, had lots of positives.
  • A ‘rule of 7’. Unless someone had 7 direct reports, they could not be a ‘manager’. Again, this was related to minimising micromanagement, and avoiding job title creep.

Related to job title creep, Eric suggested reward is better conveyed with money than with job title: “If you want to reward status do it with financials not with appearances.”

And at a much wider level, he put forth that building a great company is about building a platform: “Real growth comes from building ecosystems. Ecosystems come from building platforms that provide huge value.” I took from this that he was referring partly to the more nebulous ‘culture’ of a company, and to its systems, processes, technology, financial, and ‘people’ setup.

4. The now clichéd “Don’t be Evil”

As with every Google discussion with a general audience, the “Don’t be evil” question came up a couple of times. In the Q&A in particular, someone asked them quite a specific question about whether some particular activities they’d carried out were evil. The question was clarified a couple of times, before being dismissed as not evil. Eric Schmidt relayed that the very first time he heard someone use the phrase: “I actually thought it was a joke”.

The “don’t be evil” point comes up so often in popular culture that if you’ve never looked into where it came from, it’s worth doing so. It was coined apparently by Amit Patel, & championed by Paul Buchheit, who subsequently left to found FriendFeed (acquired by Facebook), before becoming a partner at Y Combinator & an investor. Paul apparently wanted a phrase that – once it caught on – the organisation would find difficult to backtrack from. The phrase has certainly stuck, but whether the ethos has depends on your perspective.

5. HiPPOs run meetings at Google.

The final point I’d noted down was that, at Google, Eric & Jonathan said the much maligned ‘HiPPOs’ run meetings. (for those unaware of the term, HiPPO = ‘highest paid person’s opinion’; it used to be a common gripe that some organisations were run by ‘hippos’ – people who made decisions purely on the basis of their instinct, and must be followed based on their status within the organisation).

Their meeting rules were interesting & useful:

  • Start with data.
  • There are 2 projectors in every room. 1 for slides; 1 for meeting notes. (this ensures everyone can see both the topic for discussion, anything agreed, and any actions; and that this can all be clarified within the meeting rather than disagreement when notes are sent around later)
  • The job of the exec (‘highest paid person’) is to get everyone talking & move the agenda forward.
  • Everybody argues about the data. “If you have a bit of a disagreement then you end up having to have a real conversation”.
  • When actions fall out of the discussion, everyone sees both the actions assigned to them, and the actions assigned to everyone else.
  • Everyone leaves understanding where they stand, what they have to do, and by when.


As mentioned at the start, these are expanded from notes I’d gathered on my phone. The event was run by the FT & despite running short (they blamed Eric Schmidt for this), and obeying the ‘revenue solves everything’ motto themselves by not handing out the books included in the ticket price, it was an interesting & useful insight into a few of Google’s principles, but more particularly into Eric Schmidt’s perspective on the world & on the company he shaped.

Do feel free to add comments below if you attended one of these events, read the book, or simply want to expand on any of the above.

And do share this with others if you found it either useful or interesting.

The Life of a Twitter Gaffe

Here is a very short post about an enormous Twitter Gaffe, along with a short set of suggestions for minimising the risks of this occurring.

The Gaffe

During a period when over a million people were marching in Paris, following a series of terrorist attacks, a woman on Twitter hit the ‘Tweet’ button & published this message to the world:

You’ll notice a few things there. Firstly, the user has ‘Cllr’ in her name – short for ‘Councillor’; secondly her Twitter ID contains ‘Labour’, as in the political party. Thirdly, and most importantly:If you followed the events of the Paris Attacks, you will know the three names she’s used in the tweet itself:

  • The first, ‘Charlie’, is the first name of the magazine where several members of staff were murdered by terrorists.
  • The third, ‘Ahmed’, is the first name of a Muslim police officer who was also murdered by terrorists.
  • The second, ‘Kouachi’, is the surname of two of the terrorists.

If you look into ‘Cllr Anita Ward’s bio, you’ll see one of her listed jobs is Chairman of Birmingham County Royal British Legion, so it was a 99.9999% certainty that she did not actually mean to support ‘#JeSuisKouachi’. In other words, an enormous gaffe: She had included the name of the murderers accidentally in a tweet which otherwise looked very well intended.

The tweet was live for about 40 minutes, before it was deleted with an apology that read “Major Major Balls up this afternoon on twitter. Apols if I have offended anyone. #tag pressed in error.”

40 minutes later was another apology: “I get it & I am sorry!! Most of all to the families of those killed and to my son injured in Afghanistan fighting these type of people.”

The Response

The reason for two apologies was that hundreds of people were now angrily tweeting their disgust at ‘Cllr Anita Ward’, despite her apologies.

And of course, they continued further, with others posting the tweet without the context of her apology, and various others making political statements hanging off it:

And eventually it reached ‘The Eggs’ – Twitter accounts from users who use it so little they don’t change their avatars from the default or, in some cases, accounts set up purely to argue with particular issues without displaying the real owner’s details:

To anyone who uses Twitter very regularly on a range of devices, it was fairly obvious what had likely occurred here: “that looks like an autocomplete error”.

How the Error Occurred

There are 2 types of autocomplete errors on Twitter:

  1. Autocompleted text from your phone’s dictionary itself.
  2. Autocompleted hashtags & usernames, which the Twitter app often nudges you to use.

The latter is less common, and those who do not use Twitter regularly may not be familiar with this. Here’s an example of how they occur. Here I’ve simply entered ‘#jesuis’ into Twitter’s ‘Search’ box:

You can see there, the third hashtag it is encouraging me to click is ‘#JeSuisKouachi’, the same term as ‘Cllr Anita Ward’ had used in her tweet. Ie, it appears she clicked that in error, added the correct hashtag after it, but failed to delete the very offensive erroneous hashtag before publishing the tweet.

An absolutely enormous gaffe, created by a small error in using Twitter’s user interface.

6 Lessons

Lessons we can learn from this:

  1. Do read your tweets before you hit the ‘tweet’ button. That sounds obvious, but using twitter sometimes feels a little like speaking, and we do not usually rehearse what we’re about to say in our heads before we start talking.
  2. Be particularly careful with hashtags & usernames where you’ve simply clicked an autocompleted suggestion. Autosuggestions, and other algorithms, do not understand the nuances humans do.
  3. Keep an eye on your notifications after you’ve posted a tweet. In the above instance, it was live for 40 minutes, despite her receiving replies within a few minutes questioning it. The faster an error is corrected, the lower the likelihood of it ‘going viral’.
  4. Understand that deleted tweets live on – replies & screengrabs don’t disappear.
  5. Even if you apologise & explain, some will not understand the apology, some will question it, some will simply ignore it & use their preferred interpretation to make their own points. (even if they make many errors themselves – as per some of the tweets above containing typos et cetera)
  6. If your Twitter bio denotes your allegiance to a political party, football club, or anything else with tribal supporters, expect that to feature among the reaction to any large errors you make.

Do leave any other thoughts in comments below, and do share this if you think others would find it useful.