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.

The Apprentice: 5 Basic Digital Marketing Errors from @Lord_Sugar’s New Company

The latest series of ‘The Apprentice’ just came to an end in the UK and, if you were among those following, you’ll know the winner was a man called Mark Wright, who gained a £250,000 investment (roughly $400k for any Americans reading), to spend launching a Digital Marketing Agency.

Not an original idea, but sensible nonetheless:

  • Digital marketing has grown hugely over the last 15 years, and is still very much on the up.
  • Mark – the winner – worked for a digital marketing agency for 18 months, and thus he should have some knowledge of the industry (or, at the very least, know how selling services works within a certain segment of the industry).
  • Finally, Alan Sugar is a big brand capable of reaching the small businesses to whom Mark is planning to sell his services.

Surprising therefore that shortly after the show I conducted a straw poll of digital marketers asking if the £250,0000 went to the right person. After 40 minutes, the response looked like this:

The show was very entertaining, and there were plenty of positives about it, but one of the most notable elements was the number of basic Digital Marketing errors they made. Here is a selection of 5 glaring errors that may help answer why so many felt Alan Sugar may have made the wrong call.

(For fairness purposes, it’s worth disclosing that I’ve worked in digital marketing for 15 years or so, have worked with probably a few dozen digital agencies across that period, and know a couple of people who appeared on the show)

Error 1. No Available Domain Name.

The winning business idea was a Digital Marketing Agency called “Climb Online“. It’s not always a deal breaker if you miss out on the ideal domain name, but it certainly helps. Sadly, neither ‘’ or ‘’ are available: they’re both already owned by rock climbing sites. The rules of The Apprentice meant they weren’t allowed to research this while the episode was being recorded, so you may say it’s excusable to have picked a company name without securing the domain. But, of course, Mark should have had this idea in his head for the entire series, and could have therefore done a few minutes research beforehand and bought a couple of relevant domains.

(Incidentally, the business Mark previously worked for was ‘Reach Local’; ‘Climb’ and ‘Reach’ are vaguely similar, and the business was of course also a Digital Marketing Agency offering similar services to his idea. On the one hand that means it’s a proven idea; on the other hand it doesn’t sound particularly original).

Error 2. Giving Away The Winner.

While ‘’ and ‘’ were gone, it seems The Apprentice team did manage to register ‘’ (and .com). In doing so, they also gave the game away somewhat for anyone savvy enough to check. Alan Sugar is of course ‘Alan Michael Sugar’. He owns various companies: Amstrad, Amsprop, Amstar, Amstique, etc. It does not therefore take a genius to spot it’s him that’s purchased ‘’:

If they’d wanted, they could have registered a couple of ‘red herring’ domains for the other contestant, but sadly they did not appear to have done that. This basically meant quite a few people figured out the winner early on into the episode. As a side-note along with this, hyphenated domain names are generally seen as harder to make work than those without hyphens (they tend to sell for roughly 1/10th the cost of those without hyphens).

Error 3. Missed Opportunities.

The Apprentice is one of the most watched shows on TV. The final itself generates millions of views, and reams of other coverage on TV news, newspapers, etc. If you were in the process of launching a Digital Marketing Agency, you’d think you may want to capitalise on that absolutely enormous opportunity. Let’s do a little maths:

  • A figure of £3,000 a month was mentioned for ‘Climb Online’s services. (or £36,000 a year)
  • The opening episode of The Apprentice got 6.6 million viewers this year.
  • The investment amount was £250,000.
  • £36,000 x 7 = £252,000.

Therefore, Mark needed only to create 7 customers who would last a year to cover the investment amount (of course this excludes costs, etc, but a rough target to aim for). That’s roughly 0.0001% of the viewers of the show. Surely a quick website with a big “Interested in our Digital Marketing Services?” email address form could manage that…

In reality very little happened.

Alan Sugar gave his usual commentary throughout the show on Twitter, and in doing so managed to get 50,000 extra followers for Mark (who only very recently joined twitter). A few of the more basic missed opportunities included:

  • Neither Mark nor Lord Sugar mentioned the company website at any point.
  • A Google search for the company name didn’t yield any results related to their company.
  • There’s no link in Mark’s twitter bio to the company.

Despite registering those domain names months ago, there was no website available at the end of the show. And, the day after the show, as all of the press stories land, the domain names still look like this:

(for anyone unaware, that’s the standard page that goes live when the domain was purchased).

In other words, millions of people watched a TV show that told them “hey, this guy is offering Digital Marketing Services”, but if you took a look online – the realm of digital marketing – you’d find nothing at all to back any of this up. As a reminder: the winner, Mark, previously worked for a Digital Marketing agency that specialised in lead generation – you would expect him to have set up at least some sort of method of gathering leads for his new business. Ironically, the ‘loser’ did a slightly better job: she at least set up a twitter account for her company (even if the website was still ‘coming soon’).

(update: a few people have mentioned the BBC’s guidelines around promotion. I don’t think that would have precluded them from launching a website, but do feel free to read here & let me know what you think:

Error 4. Company Name Clarity

The company name used in the show was “Climb Online”. Millions of members of the British public are now (at least vaguely) aware of that name. It’s the kind of exposure you literally cannot buy (despite the domain name blunder), and Mark is still tweeting referring to it by that name (even if he doesn’t quite know how to share an image in the correct orientation):

Despite all of that, he seems to have registered – and be trading under – a different business name (“Wrighton Digital Ltd”). Here’s his directorship record from DueDil:

Note the company name there, ‘Wrighton Digital Ltd’. Alongside that, a couple of people who apparently either know Mark, or were involved with the show have mentioned this is his new brand:

If you hunt around, there are various other references to this. There’s an ‘Avon Coaches’ website that claims to be ‘Powered by Wrighton Digital’, and a few forums reference the business:

Of course, that may simply have been a temporary cover story to avoid the result leaking to the press, but a simple announcement would clear it all up & generate a ton of press, links, etc for the real business. There are 3 possible alternatives there:

  1. It’s a cover story, and the business will be called Climb Online. In which case it’s madness that they didn’t have the site ready to go at the end of the show at ‘’ or
  2. They have gone for a rebrand, and it will no longer be called Climb Online. In which case it’s madness that they didn’t mention this at the end of the show, or at least announce it on twitter & run some Google ads against the phrase ‘climb online’ to communicate the new name to anyone who searched for the name.
  3. This is something Mark’s running by himself, under the radar. Unlikely I think.

Whichever the answer, it would be very easy to have fixed this.

Error 5. Nabbed Twitter Account.

The next clanger here is on a level similar to some of the above: a fairly fundamental error that would have been easy to avoid with a bit of foresight.

  • is, of course, already taken (and they say they’re not going to hand it over)
  • was registered by someone after the final.
  • was registered by someone after the final.

Neither of the newly registered accounts appear to be owned by Mark Wright, or Alan Sugar. It would have been simple to register either/both for anyone who knew the business name beforehand (ie. Mark or Alan!)


Of course, it’s a TV show & meant for entertainment rather than to display ‘best practice’. There were probably lots of restrictions on what could/could not be done for the purpose of keeping the winner secret. And, of course, there are always going to be errors in something like this & that’s fine, but the errors pointed out here are fairly basic. There were dozens more errors & omissions surrounding this, but those are barely worth mentioning alongside the above.

All of this is a shame from 2 points of view:

  1. It’s great when Digital Marketing makes it into the mainstream. It would be even better if this were represented in a 100% positive light, which these basic errors do not assist.
  2. If Mark had got things right, he could quite easily have gathered enough interest to cover the £250,000 investment immediately. Instead, it seems he’ll go down the old school sales route (he came across as an extremely able salesperson). That’s completely fine, but it’s very sad that a digital marketing business would fail to cover the digital marketing basics above.

Ironically, in the post-show interviews, Alan Sugar said one of the reasons he chose to hire the winner was that Google UK’s MD had advised him to do so. It seems he wasn’t aware that the person he was talking about had left Google in the intervening period.

Very good luck to them both, and I hope the show has inspired many more people into digital marketing. Do leave any comments below, or share this post with others if you think they’d find it useful.

ps. I send out emails occasionally with content like this. Feel free to sign up if you’d like.

How Google are Pivoting Brand Searches Into AdWords Profits

Google have been rolling out “Sitelinks Search Boxes” for many sites recently. These have existed for years, but on a very, very limited number of sites, and without any auto-complete functionality. These are useful from a user point of view but – something that has not been spoken about particularly – they also provide a big potential new revenue opportunity for Google. Here’s an example of how Google are using Sitelinks Search Boxes to turn a search for ‘ASOS’ into a potential click on an ad for the much more revenue-friendly term ‘Dresses’: Here’s the user journey there, in case you find that difficult to follow:

  1. The user searches for ‘ASOS’.
  2. Google show the search results page for ASOS.
  3. The user sees the ‘search within asos’ box and types ‘dresses’
  4. Google takes the user to a search results page where the organic results are all from ASOS’ site, but the ads are all from competitors.

That means:

  • From Google’s point of view, a search term where they could expect a very small amount of ad spend in the past (brand search cost per click direct to the brand site is usually very low) has suddenly turned into a big revenue opportunity.  They of course have the ability to ‘autocomplete’ that search box with any terms they choose, and to populate ads in any way they choose on the page afterward.
  • From the main brand’s point of view (ASOS in this case), suddenly their brand search – a page where they’ll have spent lots of time, effort, and money to try and ensure they fully ‘own’ has the potential to drive customers to competitors.
  • From the secondary brands’ position (in this case Net-a-Porter & John Lewis), this is an opportunity to ‘steal’ a customer who had been searching specifically for another brand.

Additional Examples

On some searches there are no ads at present, on others there are simply sidebar ads, but on some – like the example below found by Mark Pinkerton – competitor ads are placed above the main brand:

And below is perhaps a more controversial example. Interflora fought a long battle with Marks & Spencer, based around Google Adwords, and their perception that M&S were unfairly gaining customers off the back of their brand. I triggered the below by searching Google for ‘Interflora’, then searching for ‘flowers’ in the sitelinks search box (the exact wording on the sitelinks search box is ‘Results from’). I suspect Interflora would not be delighted by this.

Potential Protection

For brands particularly worried about this, there is some potential protection. As suggested by Peter Wilson, it is possible to set things up so that the sitelinks search box delivers users to your own internal search, rather than to another google results page. Here’s an example of the instructions to achieve that:


Multiply this across the tens of thousands of brands where Google is enabling these Sitelinks Search Boxes, and – assuming users take advantage of them – is likely to be a big revenue driver for Google, a big opportunity for some brands to target their competitors, and a cost for others to protect their own brands.

It will be interesting to see the impacts of this, especially tied with Google recently removing the ability to exactly target particular phrases. Do leave any thoughts below, or share this with others if you think they would find it interesting or useful.



I updated this post to add extra examples from Mark Pinkerton (chelsea boots), Peter Wilson (how to protect), and Geoff Losse (interflora). Subscription – Choose Your Price

It’s very much worth testing the price of your app or service, but also worth trying to avoid having too many different prices visible to potential customers at the same time when you’re running different tests and segmented offers.

Here are 8 examples of different prices for subscription, all found within a couple of minutes searching Google for ‘ft subscription price’, ‘ subscription offer’, etc.









There you go – eight prices – without even taking into account ‘monthly’ vs ‘annual’ rates.

I wonder whether this increases or decreases their results, and whether they’ve taken the “people who see multiple prices” effect into account in their testing.

The Impact of Small Changes

The Impact of Small Improvements

In situations where there is a chain of events, very small improvements within the chain can yield big end results. Most digital marketing/website user journeys are like this.

As a silly example, the chart below shows how a brand could increase their ’email revenue’ from £391,500 to £500,772, simply by improving performance at each step of a user journey by 1 percentage point.

In the example, an ecommerce brand is sending a single email to a list of 1.5 million addresses. The average order value in each scenario is £145.

Take a look at scenario A and compare the ‘actual’ results at each stage to scenario B:

This is a simple, very crude example, but a nice reminder of a pattern that appears in almost every single user journey.