Keyword Clusters: Revealing Profitable SEO Opportunities

Keyword Clusters: Revealing Profitable SEO Opportunities

In today’s guest post, Blueclaw’s Digital Strategy Manager Sam Raife, outlines the need for greater focus on keyword clusters, when it comes to developing an effective SEO strategy.

All of the team from Blueclaw loved being part of last month’s Search Masterclass. It was a great venue and an event that was filled with digital marketing leaders from a whole host of different backgrounds.

However, even with all this professional diversity, one of the issues that came up time and again was the need for SEO leaders to have a greater input on strategy, and the problematic focus on individual rankings as the dominant (or only) measure of SEO success.

The problem with using rankings as a measurement KPI is that people tend to focus on the success or failure of a single ranking.

Taking a straightforward, mainstream product, let’s consider the keyword “Blinds”.

This keyword is responsible for 90,500 searches a month in the UK according to SEMrush. That is a lot of searches.

It is easy to see why anybody would get fixated with that. Move me to position 1 for this and we get more sales. So far so simple – but there’s more to the story.

Moving from Keywords, to Keyword Clusters

As an SEO professional, you know that the term “Blinds” is important, but you also know that the sum of the search volume of other related phrases such as “Roman Blinds”, “Window Blinds” and “Roller Blinds” has a combined total search volume much larger than that of just “Blinds”,

More than this, you know that more specific terms such as these are a good buying signal, and so visitors who arrive on the site from these keywords are more likely to convert.

This is a basic example, and one that most people will be able to understand, but what about when you consider FAQs, or long-tail phrases that are 5+ words that still have valuable search volume?

Making the case for looking beyond single keywords requires a change the focus and knowing you have a way of building content that will help capture a greater spread of terms and traffic.

Creating Content to Target Keywords Clusters

Planning out content to accommodate long tail keyword clusters can be done by following a straightforward process:

  1. Document the core topics, issues, queries and problems that your target customers might relate to your product or service.
  2. Compile each of these topics into grouped areas of similarity.
  3. Expand the central topics using keyword research from the tools you are most comfortable using.
  4. Use competitor research and some internal soul-searching to establish the content that you are most effective at producing for each keyword cluster.
  5. Create and write the best possible content you can, aligned to keyword clusters.

This is of course an abbreviated overview of a task that can be challenging – we all know companies often struggle to produce great content on an effective schedule for SEO or any other purpose.

Making the justification that these long tail phrases are just as if not more important as part of a genuinely strategic SEO and content plan than a main target keyword can be a challenge – but there are tools and approaches that can help.

Data-driven Strategy with The SEO’s Pro’s Friend: Excel

The number of analytical tools and platforms available to SEO professionals today is getting higher by the day but one of the best (though least pretty) is found on pretty much every desktop – Excel.

Combining analysis from tools like SEMrush and aHrefs with the long-established (though powerful) functions of Excel is a winning way to ground your keyword strategy.

Pivot tables in particular are an effective way to explore the cumulative impact of your target keywords, opening up scope to plan using clusters of keywords rather than individual ‘vanity’ keywords

To adopt this approach yourself, we have built an Excel tool that SEO professionals and marketers can use, based on a simple but powerful combination of pivot tables and a SEMrush csv.

Just follow the instructions on the spreadsheet, paste your data and hit refresh. The template will help you do the analysis detailed above, and help build the case for targeting keyword clusters – not individual keywords.

Click here to get the Keyword Cluster Tool

The fact is, small individual ranking movements don’t matter if you are making regular progress to increase the average position of these pages and the rankings associated with them across a valuable cluster of keywords

Of course, if you have any questions about SEO, how to use SEMrush or the tool, read more here or write to us at and we’ll be happy to help. Any and all feedback appreciated!

Author Biog

Sam Raife - Blueclaw

Sam Raife heads up the ‘Offsite Strategy Team’ at Blueclaw. In his role, Sam supports and develops campaign strategies that deliver tangible uplifts in rankings, traffic and revenue for his clients.


Delegate Review: #SLManc16 @Etihad Stadium

Search Leaders Masterclass - Etihad Stadium

In today’s guest post, Sarah Boustouller, Head of Marketing at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, reflects on her #SLManc16 experience and  shares some of the key takeaways from the day.

I was fortunate to continue my ongoing learning journey last week when I attended the Search Leaders Masterclass, produced by the Marketing Masterclass Series. The morning event was held at the stunning Etihad stadium, a great venue for discussing the cutting-edge topic of notable change in search.

In my role as Head of Marketing at Stephensons, I strive to attend events and conferences that truly help me to make a strategic difference in steering my team and ensuring best practice in what we do as an in-house team. I also seek to maintain Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), Chartered Status each year through continued learning and encourage others in my team to do likewise. It can however, be hard to find events that do not deliver ‘me too’ content that is already widely available.

Delegate Review: #SLManc16 @Etihad Stadium

The Search Leaders Masterclass, was different in its approach to other events I have attended. The event started with a keynote opening that was delivered by Andrew Halliday, Head of SEM at Satsuma Loans. This was fascinating because it provided me with a snapshot concerning how Stephensons’ appointed Search Engine Optimisation supplier/partner, Hitsearch works with us to deliver a technical audit at regular intervals. I gained some key takeaways from his talk.

The most insightful was his explanation in relation to the combination of tools that should be used when conducting a technical audit. Andrew explained that when you look at server logs combined with third-party tools such as DeepCrawl then you can gain the most accurate picture. The server logs will tell us, which pages google is crawling the most and crawling the site tells us where ‘404 redirects’ and other technical issues are identified. Combined this gives optimal insight. I gleaned other specific pieces of information from his talk to look out for.

Delegate Review: #SLManc16 @Etihad Stadium

The organisers at the event encouraged the delegates not to sit with any colleagues they know and we sat randomly at a number of roundtables. Again, a great method of learning and networking. I am always keen to hear from others outside of the legal profession, in marketing roles. Other sectors can often be early adopters of online marketing activity and therefore they act as predictors in terms of looking at what might give a competitive edge for the legal sector and Stephensons in the future. This is particularly true of e-commerce brands. It was great to have on my table a real mix of those in very technical roles from a cross-section of sectors.

Delegate Review: #SLManc16 @Etihad Stadium

A series of roundtable discussions then unfolded. Each roundtable was visited by a different agency who chose a key topic/challenge to discuss with the group. From this I took away several nuggets to inform my thinking moving forward. The discussion group chaired by Blueclaw is in line with our current online content strategy so it was great to have some reinforcing points. I also particularly enjoyed the next session, by Search Laboratory who spoke in part about attribution for online channels. Return on Investment is a topic close to my heart! Being able to demonstrate it helps demonstrate the power of Marketing, so the models they spoke about will make me think further on sharpening our own in-house techniques further at Stephensons.

The roundtable discussions fostered a relaxed atmosphere which allowed those with different levels of technical knowhow and different experiences derived from their sectors to be exchanged. We will continue to work into our Marketing training plans attendance at these events moving forward. Great morning.

*The Search Leaders Masterclass was produced in association with Home Agency, Search Laboratory, Branded3, Blueclaw, Greenlight Digital and Adam.

Author Biog

Delegate Review: #SLManc16 @Etihad Stadium - Sarah Boustouller

Sarah joined Stephensons in 2006 and became a Partner in 2013. During this time Sarah has been heavily involved with the evolution of Stephensons’ brand. In her role as Head of Marketing and Partner, Sarah manages a growing in-house team and provides marketing support to the departments across our ten offices based throughout the North West in Manchester, Leigh, Bolton, Wigan, St Helens, Altrincham and London.

Unconventional Search Engines – Think Outside the Box

Unconventional Search Engines – Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie, Home Agency

In today’s guest post, Home Agency’s Digital Strategy Director Lawrence Alexander, and Head of Technical SEO Neill Horie, provide an insight into the ten unconventional search engines that may be the answer to delivering your digital strategy and sales targets.

Don’t just rely on Google – take a look at the top 10 search engines people use to buy and make sure you’re doing all you can, including unconventional ones.

When it comes to making sure that their content and products are found, people often think about Google, but forget other platforms with a massive reach in terms of users, searches and sales. We’ve compiled a list of our top 10 to help you think outside of the box and investigate some unconventional search engines.

  1. Google – 165,000,000,000 searches per month

Unconventional Search Engines - Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie

The largest search engine in the world, with 2 trillion monthly searches per year1, or roughly 165 billion searches per month. Making sure that your content is visible in Google is typically the obvious first step.



2. Facebook – 30,000,000,000 searches per month

Unconventional Search Engines - Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie

Facebook has a giant reach in search which is often overlooked, with well over 1 billion monthly usersand surpassing 30 billion search queries per month3. To no-one’s surprise, they’re also thinking about how to leverage that search, but are already well placed due to the amount of company information already present.


3. Bing – 24,000,000,000 searches per month

Unconventional Search Engines - Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie

Bing have kept their search data statistics relatively quiet, but with 12% of global market share (including Yahoo!) versus Google’s 83%4, it’s definitely smaller than Google. Roughly 80% of its audience are in the USA (probably 19 billion monthly searches) and much of the rest in Canada5, however, meaning that it’s much less useful if your customers aren’t in North America. This may grow over time however, due to Alexa (Amazon Echo), Cortana (Windows 10) and Siri (iPhone) using Bing to power their search functionality.

4. YouTube – 1,000,000,000 active monthly users

Unconventional Search Engines - Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie

Often considered the search engine which people don’t think about, YouTube’s reach is enormous, claiming a third of the world’s internet population amongst its users6. Shooting videos is often seen as too expensive, and the medium itself seen as ill-suited for many brands. This need not be true, as already in 2015, they claimed a year-on-year growth of 70% for “how to” queries7, which many brands may want to take advantage of, especially given its prevalence in voice search.

5. Instagram – 500,000,000 active monthly users

Unconventional Search Engines - Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie

Not only does Instagram have a high number of monthly active users, but 80% of those users are outside of the USA8. Hidden from traditional search marketing due to being a closed, mobile-only system, it nevertheless helps 60% of its users – or 300 million people – find out about a product or service9.


6. Vimeo – 170,000,000 active monthly users

Unconventional Search Engines - Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie

A slightly more exclusive video-sharing platform than YouTube10, Vimeo can be useful in more B2B-centric environments due to the cost-effective paid packages and absence of advertisements. Stats on internal searches within Vimeo are hard to come by, but Vimeo itself often ranks well in Google (albeit behind YouTube).


7. LinkedIn – 112,500,000 active monthly users

Unconventional Search Engines - Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie

A widely used11 content hosting platform in addition to just a place to have business connections, LinkedIn is often a missed opportunity for people wanting to be found by determined searchers.



8. Pinterest – 150,000,000 active monthly users

Unconventional Search Engines - Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie

At 150 monthly users12 and 2 billion monthly searches13, Pinterest may only be a fraction of the search volume seen by Google and Bing, but those users are actively interested in purchasing. 93% of users use Pinterest to plan for purchases14, 72% have seen something and bought it offline and whilst 52% have seen something and then purchased it online15.


9. Google+ – 40,000,000 active monthly users

Unconventional Search Engines - Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie

Irrelevant for many people and typically considered dead, it has about 4-6 million actively posting users16, which could mean about 40 million users including lurkers. Nevertheless, it has value for the right audiences, particularly tech-savvy ones. For instance, Niantic, the developer behind Ingress and Pokemon Go, uses Google+ heavily for its communications17.


10. Amazon Echo/Alexa – 1,600,000 active owners at present

Unconventional Search Engines - Think Outside the Box by Lawrence Alexander and Neill Horie

They may be new to the market, but (AI-driven) voice search and assistants are an onrushing trend to take advantage of. Alexa, for instance, only has 1.6 million active owners right now18, but not many businesses have skills – specific phrases you can associate with your products or services – developed yet competition is incredibly low.

This isn’t the end of the opportunities either, as there will often be specific opportunities available for your niche and situation. The important thing is to not restrict yourself to the main, most competitive method when other ways exist.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, you can catch-up with Lawrence and Neill at next week’s Search Leaders Masterclass in Manchester, where they’ll be delivering a session on – Sales before search: Why alternative search engines and ‘renting’ ranking space might be the answer to your sales targets.



Author Biogs

Lawrence Alexander - Home Agency

Lawrence is a strategist specialising in digital and brand communications. He’s worked with over 150 high street brands including Microsoft, Mashable, BMW, Sony and Unilever. Since 1999, Lawrence has been using a mixture of behavioural psychology and digital brand strategy to help businesses and brands achieve their business objectives.


Neill Horie, Head of Technical SEO at Home Agency - Search Leaders Masterclass, Manchester

Neill is Head of Technical SEO at The Home Agency with a passion for making things clearer via organisation. To that end, he’s involved in a projects in the hope that regardless of whether it’s a new website or an old product brochure, it’s clear what’s what.



Winning Top Tier Coverage for Search Engine Impact

Winning top tier media coverage for search engine performance - Martin Calvert, Blueclaw

In today’s guest post, Blueclaw’s Marketing Director Martin Calvert examines the impact of quality media coverage on visibility and search performance. 

Links remain the lynchpin of off-site SEO strategy, but not all links are created equal.

Google’s commitment to rewarding sites that provide the most value to human visitors, means the search engine is looking for indications that your site is organically featured and linked to by high quality sites.

As Google’s Matt Cutts states –

‘…the objective is not to ‘Make your links appear natural’; the objective is that your links are natural.”

Natural links from great website and publications help your site – unnatural links from poor quality site do nothing or actively damage your rankings.

Unlocking that higher tier of coverage and winning over publications, blogs and influencers takes great content, aligned to your SEO strategy.

However, lessons can be drawn from other disciplines – including PR.

Content Marketing, SEO and PR


“What sites can I be featured on? What would their readers find compelling about what we have to say? What topics would capture their interest? Where can I reasonably expect to win coverage?”

….are all questions that professionals in another content-centric industry are very familiar with – PR.

As SEO becomes ever more like PR in terms of these questions, the more marketers can look to the established habits of great PR firms to guide their content strategy, while also incorporating the SEO criteria and metrics they need to drive rankings.

As in PR, the more authoritative and discerning a publication/site you target, the better your content must be. Remember, these publications thrive on maintaining high standards, and have their own SEO and readerships to consider.

SEO is a bit of an arms race in that with so many companies attempting to implement a link-earning strategy, the best sites have become more discerning about who they link to.

Meanwhile, more ‘accessible’ sites lose value quickly – and could even result in a penalty.

Higher Value Links, Greater Results

The gold standard of leading industry publications, mainstream media and .gov and .edu domains remains in force.

The effort to produce this content of a quality that will win coverage (and links) from this type of outlet can be off-putting.

For some companies, they will continue to suffer from the fatal half measure of lacklustre content generation leading to lacklustre results.

Breaking out of that routine and really taking your SEO strategy forward, requires creativity, insight and authentic content of unambiguous value.

The good news is the better your content is, the further it can travel and the greater results you can anticipate.

This is particularly the case if there is an element of virality – content that people cannot resist linking to and sharing on social media and elsewhere.

Manning the Pump

The internet is awash with mediocre content, churned out on a timely schedule.

The written word is vital but engaging, entertaining and insightful visual elements also increase the value of content as the delivery mechanism for the crucial link to your site.

A vanishingly small number of companies can produce content on a consistent basis that retains high standards of quality – and some will choose never to invest that time, effort or money.

We know that Google loves new content, are hungry to index it and will give a boost to fresh material on the assumption that newer = more timely, relevant and interesting.

That’s something to bear in mind when producing content for your own site, but it’s also at the forefront of the minds of savvier website owners. Your great content helps their site – so they’ll be willing to scratch your back in turn with a follow link.

Consistency in Content

Consistency in content creation in terms of timeliness and quality is just as important for the mainstream media.

Though they may be less concerned about their own search rankings, they do demand dependable partners who can be relied upon to help with a quote, a bit of insight or a meaty piece of content that makes their story or their site that much better.

In short, your SEO programme will suffer and winning, retaining and expanding your media relationships will be harder without regularity of great content – that crucial connective tissue – to keep the reciprocal relationships working well.

Differentiating on Content for Next-Level SEO

Content marketing is the delivery mechanism for off-site SEO – and the better your content, the greater leeway you have to engage and negotiate with the sites that fit the ideal profile for your SEO strategy.

What qualifies as great content will vary depending on your industry, and demands of the press, industry publications, sector-specific sites and influencers.

Content marketing is in a hype phase at the moment, meaning that there is a flood of sub-par content.

Differentiating is critical, as is creating a reputation for quality and consistency – looking to PR for inspiration is just one route.

Author Biog

Martin Calvert - Blueclaw

Martin has an 11-year career as an international researcher, speaker and client and agency-side practitioner in the field of online communication and influence. Drawing on his diverse experience, Martin provides a practical, personable and data-driven view of digital marketing and SEO.

Having recently joined Blueclaw as Marketing Director, Martin is responsible for enthusing major brands and challengers alike about the new art of the possible in digital marketing.

Martin’s session at next week’s Search Leaders Masterclass at Etihad Stadium, Manchester: Earning media coverage, social shares & engagement for next-gen SEO


Content Marketing: The Delivery Mechanism for Contemporary SEO

Content Marketing - The Delivery Mechanism for Contemporary SEO by Martin Calvert, Blueclaw

As part of our build-up to this month’s Search Leaders Masterclass at Etihad Stadium in Manchester, Blueclaw’s Marketing Director Martin Calvert examines the role of content marketing as a delivery mechanism for next-gen SEO.

SEO is dead. Content is king.
Well…that’s what a lot of clickbait blogs have been announcing for some time.

The fact is SEO and content marketing are inextricably linked, and too many SEO programmes are undercut by a casual approach to content that leads to poor results.

Grown up SEO
To a large extent, a scalable and effective SEO programme still depends on inbound links from high-authority sites.

Google and other search engines are continually instructing marketers to produce websites that are accessible and of legitimate interest to actual humans, rather than focusing on how to manipulate bots.

In other words, SEO has grown up.

Of course, the smarter Google gets at detecting web content that is spammy or otherwise odd (and algorithm updates like Google Panda and Google Possum are arriving frequently), the more danger there is for website owners who host dodgy content.

The way to their heart (and to obtain the coverage and links you need) is through genuinely superior content that makes their publications and websites better, and add real value, amusement and/or insight to the reader on the page.

Winning valuable coverage for SEO is best achieved through content that deserves coverage and commentary – content that is ‘linkable’ even by those who have no interest at all in your particular brand.

SEO and Content Marketing
Content Marketing – The Delivery Mechanism for Contemporary SEO by Martin Calvert, Blueclaw

SEO in its most basic definition is about getting the right traffic to the right pages, through better understanding of ranking factors and approaches. SEO is all about the outcome.

Content marketing is an approach that (among many other things) helps achieve that outcome – the connective tissue between your intended audience, a target publication/blog/website and the delivery mechanism for that coveted link through to your site.

The Delivery Mechanism
In the olden days of off-site SEO, the delivery mechanism – the means to secure links to your site, may just have been the link itself, a dense keyword-rich article or a bit of detail for a directory listing.

What’s changed is that the delivery mechanism – the content that surrounds, embraces and supports the link you want to obtain – must be much closer to what a human reader will consider to be good.

Out with the Old
So. Keyword-stuffing is out. Duplicate content and oversold meta-descriptions are out. Google’s Panda update is becoming ever-more effective at spotting (and delivering penalties to) ‘over-optimised’ sites with a dubious, unnatural link profile.

Today, content produced for SEO-benefit must be of a higher quality, greater depth and more human to win authentic coverage and abide by the best practice demanded by search engines.

That’s for the benefit of both the publications you depend upon to link to you, who need to protect and boost their own rankings, as well to retain the SEO value of any link to your site.

A Supporting Role
Content marketing specialists may feel a little uncomfortable about this description of the supporting role that content can play in SEO.

Indeed, it’s the lack of investment in content marketing expertise that is responsible for so many underwhelming SEO campaigns.

By not prioritising genuinely superior, targeted and high quality content, some companies reduce the content element of SEO to just ‘fodder’.

Contemporary SEO success is contingent on getting out of that mindset – and SEO specialists working with (and giving credit to) content marketing experts who can hit the standard required to deliver truly top-tier on-topic coverage, inbound links and productive relationships with media partners.

Author Biog

Martin Calvert - Blueclaw

Martin has an 11-year career as an international researcher, speaker and client and agency-side practitioner in the field of online communication and influence. Drawing on his diverse experience, Martin provides a practical, personable and data-driven view of digital marketing and SEO.

Having recently joined Blueclaw as Marketing Director, Martin is responsible for enthusing major brands and challengers alike about the new art of the possible in digital marketing.

Martin’s session at the Search Leaders Masterclass in Manchester on Tuesday 29th November 2016:  Earning media coverage, social shares & engagement for next-gen SEO

Spotlight: Welcome to a mobile-first world

Welcome to a mobile-first world - Bea Patman, Head of SEO at Greenlight Digital

In today’s guest post, Greenlight Digital’s Head of SEO Bea Patman shares her thoughts on the mobile-first revolution, and why digital marketers need to invest more time and resource into their mobile strategy.

SEO loves its tropes: if we’re not insisting for the thousandth time that ‘content is king’, we’re predicting that next year really will be ‘the year of mobile’.  We’ve become so accustomed to heralding in each new year with this particular forecast that it feels a bit strange to be calling an end to the tradition.  But do so I must, because here’s the thing – The Year of Mobile has happened.

Perhaps the biggest piece of evidence for this is ‘Mobilegeddon’; the delightfully melodramatic nickname given to Google’s mobile-friendly update in April 2015.  It’s rare that industry news makes mainstream headlines but this update was widely covered in the press – not least because of the headline-friendly epithet, but also because it was a rare instance in which the update was announced in advance by Google.  The apocalyptic name belied what was actually a fairly low-key initial impact, but more than anything this update marked the beginning of a major sea change in the significance of mobile performance to organic search success.

There’s no great mystery behind the intense focus that Google placed on mobile performance in 2015.  The number of searches made on mobile devices surpassed that of desktops worldwide, meaning that mobile users became the majority that brands should seek to satisfy.  One of the more interesting consequences of this transition has been an almost unprecedented level of transparency from Google about what best practice should look like.  It provides a mobile-friendly testing tool with which webmasters can assess their pages against specific design criteria, as well as a dedicated mobile test within the PageSpeed Insights tool.   In October 2015, Google announced support for the Accelerated Mobile Pages project (AMP) – a project which utilises existing web technologies within a new open source framework, designed to help brands create much lighter webpages.  AMP enables sites to observe best practice by managing the size, order and rendering of page elements, making it much simpler to adhere to Google’s PageSpeed guidelines.

I think that this consistent focus on mobile experience has been responsible for stimulating a somewhat subtler transition in the way that brands treat their mobile propositions, too.  For the past few years we’ve been in what some are calling a ‘land grab’ phase, which has seen brands rush to stake a position in front of a mobile audience, often compromising on quality in favour of getting to market faster.  This was the era of clunky mobile sites, confusing redirects, inconsistent functionality and lots of strange and unhelpful apps – all contributing to a poor user experience on mobile.  2015 was the first time that we really began to see brands recognising that mobile was actually an incredibly fertile ground in which to develop meaningful, enhanced experiences for their customers.

These kind of experiences range from the simple, such as creating adaptive or responsive mobile-first websites, to ambitious projects such as the use of iBeacons at airports to facilitate a smooth, mobile-only journey from ticket purchase to check-in.  Beacon technology is a particularly interesting field of opportunity for any brands that have a physical touchpoint with their customers, because of its ability to drive offline behaviours at highly specific locations and moments in time.  If you were a wine producer, for example, you might be able to use a supermarket’s beacon technology to promote an offer on your products via a push notification at the exact moment a potential customer was browsing the aisle.

While there’s been plenty of debate around when the year of mobile actually happened, what’s certain is that the latest updates and algorithms are far more mobile-focused. With that in mind, the best advice I have for any SEO or digital marketer is to seriously consider the time and resource that is going towards your mobile activity, so that you can tap into what is now the mobile-first consumer.

Author Biog

Bea Patman - Head of SEO at Greenlight, who'll be speaking at Search Leaders Masterclass in Manchester (29/11/16)

Bea has worked in digital marketing for over eight years, specialising in organic search. Having originally joined Greenlight in 2012, she now leads the team of consultants as Head of SEO. She has led SEO strategy for a variety of major UK and international brands, both in English and German, and draws from her background in writing to bring creativity and a content-led approach to her work.

You can catch-up with Bea at this month’s Search Leaders Masterclass, which takes place at Etihad Stadium, Manchester on Tuesday 29th November 2016.


Etihad Stadium to host Search Leaders Masterclass

Etihad Stadium: Official Venue of Search Leaders Masterclass, Manchester

With 2016 soon coming to an end, we thought we’d end the year on a high by confirming Etihad Stadium as our official venue partner for next month’s Search Leaders Masterclass in Manchester.

After successfully launching four ‘New’ masterclass events across the city in 2016, we’re already looking to extend the reach of our events, and also introduce a few new things along the way.

Delegates already confirmed for #SLManc16, which will be held in the Mancunian Suite at Etihad Stadium on Tuesday 29th November 2016 includes: Manchester City FC, BBC, MBNA, PZ Cussons, Missguided, Irwin Mitchell, Autotrader and The Co-operative Group to name but a few.

Latest #SLManc16 Delegates

The masterclass in association with Home, Search Laboratory, Greenlight, Branded3 and Blueclaw will bring together some of the industry’s finest digital talent, as they discuss the big issues that are shaping the search marketing landscape.

To secure your seat at the Search Leaders Masterclass – Register Here

Service Design: Pragmatic Steps for Positive Change

Service Design: Pragmatic Steps for Positive Change - Kevin Fitzsimons

In today’s guest post, The UX Agency’s Kevin Fitzsimons shares some practical advice on how to bring about positive change when it comes to service design and delivering a better experience for your customers.

Design Thinking.

Service Design.

Experience Design.


Recognise these? Lots of phrases like this have appeared on the business radar recently, all of which include the word ‘Design’. For someone working in business, just trying to serve their customers better, it’s getting hard to absorb. How do these differ from each other? What’s relevant, what’s not, and how does someone who isn’t a design specialist make sense of this? Are they things that should just be left to design specialists, or should you get involved, and if so to what extent? Perhaps more importantly, what does it mean for your customers and for how your business could evolve? And what practical steps can you take right now to get started along the Service Design path?

Firstly, it’s worth highlighting that all of these have one thing in common: they focus very clearly on customer-centricity as a cornerstone, and indeed can’t be effective without it. They all recognise the fundamental importance of a deep understanding of real users, and how their engagement with your product or service can develop and improve.

So how does this play out in Service Design?
It’s clear that user expectations for service delivery are rising, fed by an ever-more sophisticated set of (largely online) experiences that your customers are exposed to on a daily basis. But the services delivered to them are currently often fragmented and lack cohesion, leading to frustration, irritation, notable pain points, and outright failure. Typically, the root cause of this can be, for example, an organisation’s service reflecting their internal organisation rather than the user needs, and/or individual silos within an organisation delivering their own pieces of the overall service without adequate coordination.

Why is Service Design key?
Because increasingly businesses are seeing their service offer as what they actually sell in the marketplace. And ‘brand’ is more and more being thought of, and expressed as, a service rather than a visual design or the vague offer of a ‘promise’. Take the Kindle for example: sold as a product, but considered by Amazon to be simply one piece in an overall service ecosystem:

Service Design: Pragmatic Steps for Positive Change - The UX Agency

”We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet, we think of it as a service” 

Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO, Amazon



Thinking in terms of a coherent, designed service brings clear benefits for business, notably in building the retention and loyalty necessary for building relationships with your customers over an extended period of time.

As with so many design aspirations in business, this all sounds great in theory. But how does a business practically make the change? Let’s look at the main underlying principles of Service Design:

Everything is based on deep understanding of, and empathy with, the users

Designers, stakeholders, technical staff and users work together to create a shared deliverable

Rapid creation of mock-ups and prototypes

Testing with real users; feedback & insights fed directly into the design process

The service is designed as a complete, end-to-end and back to front entity

So a key question would be: where is your organisation with respect to these? And what challenges might your organisation face when trying to implement these?

Some good news: many organisations are already doing some of this as part of other design initiatives (for example, user personas or journey maps). A useful initial task could be to identify & audit such activity, assessing what’s available and putting together a plan to fill the gaps.

‘Holistic’ is a crucial consideration here and often the most difficult part for organisations to address. In practical terms, this really means putting in place strategic oversight and stitching together disparate service elements, and the groups responsible for them, into a strategic, unified view. This can be challenging, but pays dividends; often this is the first time anyone in organisation has had the opportunity to work on – or indeed see – the complete, end to end service. Typically, this is expressed in a shared deliverable known as a Service Blueprint.

What this adds up to is an opportunity to own and manage the overall design of the service your organisation offers, rather than just letting it happen. It means that implementing point solutions for individual problems can be prioritised, coordinated and (using the Service Blueprint as a touchstone) harmonised to the strategic context to maximise their impact on the user’s experience, kick-starting to realise the benefits of Service Design immediately.

Service design is a skill that helps your organisation to a better position in today’s service-oriented marketplace. You can use it to build seamless and efficient experiences that delight users, and increase loyalty and engagement. There’s no doubt that this is a valuable outcome, and increasingly organisations are now building teams solely dedicated to Service Design. Going down this route can take time, but there are pragmatic steps you can take right away that can have an immediate impact on your service delivery:

  • Understand your current situation. What’s already happening?
  • Understand where you need to get to. Exploit user insights to help define and own a vision for your service
  • Establish contact with the people involved, and start to collaborate

In summary, by keeping the overall vision in sharp focus and having an appreciation of the design process, it’s possible to take initial steps, and make immediate improvements, through targeted practical action.

Author Biog
Kevin Fitzsimons - Service Design: Pragmatic Steps for Positive Change

Kevin’s work in the field of customer experience has embraced such diverse fields as Information Architecture, usability testing, service design, design management and field research.

Kevin has developed complex interfaces for consumer ecommerce, large-scale B2B enterprise software, mobile data capture applications and public bodies during his time working with organisations such as AON, Pitney Bowes, British Airways, T-Mobile and The British Council.

#UXL16 Preview: Putting UX at the Heart of the Business

Putting UX at the Heart of the Business - SimpleUsability

As part of our final build-up to next week’s UX Leaders Masterclass in Manchester, SimpleUsability’s CEO & Founder – Guy Redwood, sets the scene for his session at #UXL16, which focuses on ‘Putting UX at the Heart of the Business.’

Customer centricity is huge in its scope.  Becoming an organisation that does more than just pay lip service to what their customers want is an enormous undertaking.  But making that shift from becoming customer focused to customer centric is the key to going from good to great (with respect to Jim Collins).

Every organisation would claim to be customer-focused, but the extent to which that’s true and more importantly the everyday actions which align the company to their customers varies hugely.

User experience is a small but critical part of customer centricity and at the UX Leaders Masterclass, we’ll be discussing tools and techniques which will help to put UX at the heart of the business.

Guy Redwood - Official roundtable chair at UX Leaders Masterclass, Manchester

Guy Redwood – SimpleUsability

We’ve distilled this down to six core areas. Here’s the first three which we’re looking forward to discussing at the event:

1. Why evidence is better than opinion

We all like to be asked our opinion on things. It makes us feel valued and listened to. But as a product manager or UXer on a project, relying on opinions can make it difficult to deliver a website/app/campaign that meets both the business and the users’ needs. Evidence helps make better decisions and lowers risk. We’ll be discussing the best ways to gather evidence and how to use that evidence internally to gain stakeholder buy-in.

2. Recruiting the right research participants

Getting real users involved in your product is the surest way to develop a customer centric approach to UX. We don’t need to preach to the converted that user research is the key to success, and there are many ways regarding ‘how’ to get these users involved from focus groups, remote research and face-to-face sessions. But recruiting these users is an art form in itself – thinking about the type of contact and the level of contact that you have with these users through the recruitment process can help.

3. Evaluating success

We work with clients in a number of ways to evaluate improvements to the user experience. Analytics products give a great starting point on understanding current customer behaviour but the real value comes from exploring the hows and whys of that behaviour.  We’ve been in situations where GA stats thought to be indicators of a positive experience actually revealed deep dissatisfaction, once we observed that behaviour in testing.  Equally beware of stakeholders wanting to over-simplify quantification in numeric KPIs. Identifying and having confidence in a single indicator of customer satisfaction requires enormous effort and still may not tell an accurate story or help find areas for growth.

We’ll be going into deeper detail on each of these areas in the coming days before sharing our six-point blueprint following the #UXL16 Masterclass.



Delivering Best in Class: Attracting UX Talent

Delivering Best in Class: Attracting UX Talent - Fiona Reid

Today’s guest post by JV Recruitment’s Fiona Reid examines the challenge that brands face when it comes to ‘Talent Attraction’ across the UX landscape, and provides some practical tips on how to ensure you’re in pole position to get the best candidate.

What does UX mean to you? Whether you associate the term with wireframing or prototyping, designing or analysing, one thing is for certain; it’s about enhancing the customer journey to deliver a best in class experience, but how can you expect to do this if you don’t have best in class employees?

The challenges facing recruiting managers when it comes to attracting quality UX talent can seem like a minefield, but there are ways to ensure that you attract the right talent, which will add value to your brand.

Recruit based on passion
UX is about understanding what makes the customer tick, and how best to engage them. If an individual doesn’t have an inherent fascination for how the customer thinks and feels, with a desire to make their website the very best, they’re not going to reach the best customer outcome. You can teach wireframing; you can’t teach enthusiasm.

Invest. Invest.
We’re not talking about the age-old “pay peanuts” adage here, and investing doesn’t always mean a huge financial outlay. Sometimes, it might be about giving your staff the time they need to keep up to date with the latest trends; let them mix with like-minded individuals and share ideas. Ensure that, where there’s an opportunity for personal development, it’s offered to your staff. Staff who are given the opportunity to expand their skillset, who feel continually challenged and stretched, are less likely to look for a new position, reducing your need to recruit.

Think “outside the box”
You wouldn’t copy your competitors when it comes to your website design, so why copy them when it comes to talent? Oftentimes, recruiting managers can be so set on attracting talent from within their sector, that they can discount some genuinely talented individuals. Some of the most successful brands we work with have found that taking talent from outside of their sector has breathed a fresh lease of life into their brand, highlighting areas for improvement which they’d never even considered before.

Widen your options
Yes, ideally you might want a candidate who has two years’ experience using Balsamiq, or five years’ experience with Axure, but the key part to attracting the right talent is in identifying what is realistic, and where you have some room for negotiation.

If you’re replacing an employee who was responsible for UX research, strategy and interaction design then you need to ascertain what you really want and (most importantly) need from your next hire; it may not be practical to expect to replace a candidate with such a wide-ranging skillset (unless your budget knows no limits), but could you consider taking someone who is strong when it comes to strategy and interaction design, then taking a graduate who could become your team’s UX Researcher? Not only will you find that you’re able to fill your vacancies quicker, but you won’t be hunting for the elusive “recruitment unicorn” which *newsflash*, doesn’t exist (and if it did, would likely be in a position where it’s being approached by countless employers).

Likewise, if you’re prepared to spend the time (see point 2!) in training an individual, graduates can often bring some fantastic, core skills and are eager to be given the opportunity to expand their skillset, so don’t discount them!

Think about your “Recruitment UX”
The key skills used when it comes to UX can all be translated to the recruitment process:-

  • Strategy – think about your goals. Who do you want to attract, and how are you going to do this? If you’re going to brief an agency, make sure that your goals are clear, and that they understand your expectations
  • Research the market, to make sure you’re competitive when it comes to salary, responsibilities etc
  • Analyse continually – is your job ad fit for purpose? Is your interview technique working? What sort of candidates are you attracting?
  • Design a smooth recruitment process, with clear steps outlined to the candidate, and clear feedback points. Even if a candidate is unsuccessful, they should have an enjoyable recruitment experience, providing them with constructive feedback and leaving them open to considering reapplying next time you have a vacancy, and telling their friends what a fantastic experience they had. Just as you wouldn’t insist on 8 clicks to get from product to checkout, do you need a 5 stage interview process?
  • Validation – the recruitment process doesn’t end on the employee’s first day; continue to get their feedback and make sure that you have a clear and well embedded on-boarding process, with open and honest communication.

Ultimately, the key message here is to make sure that applicants want the role they’ve applied for; remember that the interview process is two-way, so it’s important that you make the role as attractive as possible, and the process as seamless as possible.

Don’t rest on your laurels
You may have a fantastic brand reputation and a loyal employee base, but it’s a lot harder to build this up than it is to diminish it. Listen to what your staff need, pay attention to what your competitors are doing and remember that UX recruitment is a candidate driven market right now, so you need to set yourselves apart from other employers, whether through your perks, staff morale or something totally unique. Shout about what makes you different, and remember that UX is a fast changing industry – you need to adapt to keep up and make sure you’re attracting the best.

Trust your recruitment partners
It’s so important to have recruitment partners in whom you have complete trust, whether they’re part of your internal team, or part of an external agency. Open and honest communication is a must, and clear objectives must be shared between you and your recruiter. It’s essential that all parties understand your aims, and act with the interest of both the employer and the candidate at heart.

Author Biog
Attracting UX Talent - Fiona Reid, JV RecruitmentFiona Reid is a specialist marketing recruiter, operating primarily in the digital space. She works with professionals from a range of sectors, across Yorkshire and the North West.

Find out more about what she does on the JV Recruitment website.