“What is the value of UX Research, and how do I apply the research effectively so that I can create, improve and maintain my website or digital product to the best standard possible?”

If you aim to create a good user experience for your website or digital product, it makes sense to know who your users are, what they need, and if those needs are being met. You also need to find out if your users can easily and effortlessly achieve the purpose of their visit. This requires research.

I say ‘user experience’ rather than ‘customer experience’ because the people that arrive at your website may or may not be your customers. Understanding your users isn’t always as obvious as you think, even if you are the business owner! Some businesses suffer with their ‘assumptions’ about their users more so than others.

UX Research is not limited to the goal of a great website or digital product. It can also be about understanding your users and customers so that you can make informed business decisions and therefore good business decisions.

There is much industry debate about what is UX, and as such there is a proliferation of information on the Internet, which is full of jargon and difficult to understand. In the coming months we aim to provide some clarity around the subject of UX for you and your business.

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Many times in the past the offer of online advertising has been pronounced dead but it’s still alive and kicking very well thank you very much but are you getting those leads that you expected from your online campaign.

We would argue that the practice of paying for advertising on various websites around the internet is thought about in the wrong way. Yes, sure if you run a shop selling product that the tracking and justification of online advertising has become far easier in past years. Sites like Facebook and Google provide all manner of data on who is clicking and what, if anything, they went on to buy from you as a result. You don’t even have to run your own site, Amazon will give you commission on things you sell by way of introduction taking the hassle out of selling altogether although we suspect it will seldom be more than pocket money. I digress.

For the rest of us running service based businesses actually tracking your online effectiveness is far more of a black art. In any form of consultancy for instance, customers are far more likely to be spending hundreds if not thousands of pounds in their first collaboration with you and that sort of purchase isn’t the type to be bought facelessly by credit card or PayPal so we need some form of justification. That justification is ‘Brand Building’. Continue reading “Are you getting the results you expect from online advertising?” »

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Martin Houlden

ISPs are everywhere. You can’t move online for the likes of eNom, Go Daddy etc. All vying to be the one who gets to liberate a small sum from your wallet for the privilege of registering a domain name for you.

So, with such competition, you’d think they’d put more effort into the single differentiator: Quality of Service wouldn’t you? Well, some do – others most definitely do not.

For years we’ve used the excellent people at Daily.co.uk. Sure they’re a few pence more expensive than the big box-shifters, but their control panel offers full DNS control and their phone and email support has been excellent anytime I’ve had to call upon it. If you’re in the market for a new domain name, I’d recommend checking them out.

If, on the other hand, you’re already got your domain and are holding it the awful Register.com – you might as well give up now. For the last five weeks I’ve been trying to migrate some domains away from them on the instruction of their owner.

With that in mind, I hope you enjoy a copy of Martin’s Monday Morning Rant In response to the latest act of service stupidity from them:


Just what on earth is going on over at Register.com? How hard is it to transfer some domains away??

My client [client name] is the legal owner of these domains. We have been trying for over ONE MONTH to migrate them away from Register.com, and yet you seem to be holding onto them for what, I can only assume, is an underhanded way of extracting more money from him. Can please can you help me to decide something?

Your Prices are significantly higher than other ISPs, this is why we are moving. But I can’t quite decide which is worse. Your pricing structure, or your method of doing business? Perhaps you’d like to let me know which you’re most proud of?

In the meantime I’m giving you a very simple instruction. PLEASE RELEASE THE DOMAINS LISTED BELOW FOR TRANSFER. If you like I will ask Roger to confirm this message on the off-chance that during any of the last twelve times we’ve communicated you’ve not quite understood our objectives yet. Alternatively I can try getting the message across to you by Morse code, Semaphore or perhaps carrier pigeon? Or if you’d like I can see if I can hire a barber shop quartette to sing a rendition of “Please release me, let me go” down at your offices?

So, for the final time, please could you pass this email onto your team of domain release monkeys, and ask them to fire up their typewriters in the hope that today might be the day they hit the right combination of keys and we can finally extricate ourselves from what is probably the poorest example of customer service I think i’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter.

Thank you

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If someone you know is trying to get their grey matter around social bookmarking, viral advertising and media sharing then this article might clear up a few things. Talk about Viral Marketing has been rife and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon. It seems from our experience that organisations are finally getting the idea they need to be involved but often stall early on. There are so many options out there to connect with your customers and grow your business but where do you start? Continue reading “What’s all this viral stuff?” »

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Martin Houlden

Bad news time for B&Q. Kingfisher’s 2011 interim report (P4) shows “B&Q UK & Ireland’s total sales were down 2.0%” then they come under fire in this blog. I wonder which will have the board more worried?

Well, let me start with some praise for our much maligned national DIY chain (one of the few still standing of course!) I hereby declare my love for the gargantuan orange retail outlet. Many happy afternoons have been had trawling up and down its many aisles, finding things that needed fixing (often things that I didn’t know existed, or only needed repair after I’d tried to fix them in the first place), or waiting at the cutting saw with a giant slab of MDF in one hand, and some aspiring dimensions in the other. They’ve helped me build bathrooms and even an entire kitchen, and so I consider myself a very good patron. But all that might soon be about to change, and over an amount so trivial that I genuinely wonder who makes these decisions. Let me explain…

Last Sunday (aka “DIY Day”) I went to B&Q and spent about 30 minutes collecting all manner of small items that I required. Carefully placing them in my basket (like kids do when they go picking strawberries) then skipped off happily to the tills. The young checkout assistant was able and polite, and even though his ability to process the items could have been a bit more ‘enthusiastic’, I really didn’t have any cause for complain. The price came in at a shade over £35 (good value too) and I was preparing to pay, and then it all went horribly wrong.

“Can I have a bag please” I asked. “We have to charge 5p for bags now” said the assistant (looking a bit sheepish as if they knew it was a bloody stupid idea).

Now call me Mr Old-Fashioned, but I’m one of the many millions of people who happen to think that if you spend some of your hard-earned at a particular store by purchasing a considerable number of items, then it’s not entirely unreasonable for that store to offer you a method in which to transport the items back to your home. I often find it amusing when, after racking up my items on a conveyor belt in the local supermarket, the till-operator asks “would you like a bag with that”. So far i’ve only ever answered “Yes please” though I am tempted to say, “No thanks, I’ll just juggle them all the way home” and see if they get the humour (unlikely).

Anyway, after a few seconds of stunned silence, I asked if the assistant was serious? Apparently they were, it was a new policy to “encourage customers to help the environment”. I pointed out that the only effect it was going to have on me was to encourage me to shop elsewhere, and with that I apologised to the assistant (as it’s not his fault after all) removed my card from the machine, wished them well in restocking the shelves and walked toward the door.

But why? It’s only 5p after all, well for several reasons (if you’re reading this in Chandlers Ford, take note).

Reason 1: Customers do not like surprises. If you’re going to mug charge them an extra fee at the checkout, then you really should let them know in advance. Might I suggest a sign on entry to the store, and perhaps another repeater sign at the tills. Perhaps something like “B&Q are committed to helping the environment and are now charging 5p for each carrier bad to help reduce landfill”. Or perhaps “B&Q are getting right royally stuffed by the recession and we need to squeeze an extra 5p from you to pay for the Bolly at the annual shareholders meeting” – whichever one you prefer, but just point it out in advance.

Reason 2: Offer the customer a choice of bags. It’s easier to take the sting away from a 5p ‘BagTax‘ by offering a ‘bag for life’ for 20p, (or even free of charge on any purchases over a certain amount).

Reason 3: Petrochemical engineering (of which i’ll admit to not being an expert, however…) Not supplying customers with plastic bags DOES NOT help the environment. There are two reasons for this. The first is that people generally tend to use the plastic bags more than once, so they carry goods home from the shops and then reuse them anyway (normally as bin bags). If you don’t give them these bags, then it just means they have to buy more bin bags anyway, ergo, no effect on landfill. The second reason is that plastic carrier bags are made from a very narrow part of the petroleum refining process called Naphthalene (Naphtha for short). Sadly Naphtha has some rather pathetic chemical characteristics which make it suitable for practically bugger all uses EXCEPT the manufacture of plastic bags. Thus If Naphtha is not turned into plastic bags then it gets burned off into the atmosphere during refinement, creating lots of lovely warming* Co2 (*allegedly).

So there you have it Mr B&Q. Your current policy needs to be looked at as if through the eyes of the customer, not the shareholder. The good news is that you still got my sale of £35 (breathe a sigh of relief) only thanks to the Customer Service Manager who followed me to the exit apologising and offered a bag “free of charge” saying it was “a stupid policy that had already upset a lot of customers”. So my advice is to either value your customers, or at least be transparent and fair with them from the outset.

Come on, you know you can do it when you B&Q it….

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Martin Houlden

Thanks to the new PayPal Adaptive Payments suite of APIs you can choose how you want to be paid online. But the real question is, how should that payment be processed?

PayPal recently launched a new service called PayPal Micropayments. This is a new type of account that you have to apply for (you can’t just accept micro payments on your standard account – not yet anyway!) So what’s the benefit of Micropayments then? Quite simply, it may offer offer lower transaction processing charges for you. And that’s the crux of the matter “it might” – it all depends on the amount of being charged per sale. Bear with me here, it’s about to get a bit technical…

PayPal’s normal processing fee (for the UK in £) is 3.4% + 20p per transaction. Now that seems relatively reasonable if you’re selling an item for £100, it would mean a total fee of £3.60… (or 3.6%) However, if the value of the item you’re selling is only £1, then your fee is 23.4p (3.4% +20p) which works out at a colossal 23.4% as a transaction fee. PayPal Micropayments charges a higher percentage, but a lower transaction fee (5% +5p). Clearly Paypal is better suited to larger amounts, BUT trying to find what the threshold was, had proved quite difficult – no one seemed to know for sure!

So, I spent a little time creating the attached graph (Please click here to download the original Excel doc). What this shows is the constant line of cost-per-value of Micropayments (the purple line) then above it, running left-right are lines showing the total fees for £, $ and €. Now, where each of these lines crosses the purple line, that is the threshold at which it’s better to switch from Micropayments to PayPal Standard.

So, for those of you who are arriving here from a Google search for “What is the threshold for using PayPal Micropayments”…
Welcome, the numbers you’re looking for are as follows:

  • UK (GBP) £9.38

  • US/CAD $11.91

  • EURO €18.75*

*The Euro one is a slightly different as this figure is based on transaction fees of 3.4% + 0.35. From my research it seems this fee structure is the most common throughout the Eurozone countries, however there are some individual nations that are charged 3.4% + 0.25, so if you’re only selling to one EU nation state, then you’d be wise to check what rate that country is.

Of course, that’s not the only story though. Because PayPals fees are weighted depending on monthly volumes. However the break points are the same. So the first tier (which all these stats are built using) is based on a monthly revenue of between £0.00 – £1500.00 (for USD and EUR just swap the currency denomination, not the figures). The next tier is from 1.5k – 6k, then 6k – 15k, 15-55k and finally 55k+ at which point the percentage fee has reduced down to only 1.4%, meaning that on an individual sale of £100, the total processing fee would only be £1.60.

I’ll look forward to updating this post with a new graph based on 55k pcm sales as soon as I need it!

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Martin Houlden

Oh PayPal, what am I to do with you? I love you, I hate you. You give me all the eCommerce facilities a person could ever need, then you hide them away behind your wicked and cruel interface. I’m taunted daily by your glacial login speeds just to get bulletproof transaction handling, yet I keep coming back for more. I just don’t know how much longer I can see us lasting…. but each time I start to look for a younger, more attractive solution, you go and surprise me – sometimes I think we’re only together for the money…

If this describes your love/hate relationship with the world’s largest payment handler, then you’re not alone. PayPal is the 800lb gorilla in the room, and when your criteria are things like wanting a trusted brand with payment and fraud protection, and one-click payments with millions of merchants, then it’s a pretty small room. And if we’re honest, there’s only really one animal in it anyway. Dammit.

However it’s not all bad. Over the last year PayPal’s been giving us some very clever toys. The most impressive of these is it’s Adaptive Payments API’s which allow merchants to split payments on-the-fly. We use this system with ParkShare, and frankly the site wouldn’t be possible without it. Top of the list of course is the API itself, which allows developers to write apps that interact with the base application itself. This is where Putler comes in.

Theres really no other way to announce it, but Putler is a game-changer. Using the API, Putler brings in all of PayPal’s functionality into a well designed Adobe Air application which is so simple-to-use you’ll never need to login to PayPal ever again. It’s like having Margaret Thatcher’s brain transplanted into Kelly Brooke’s body. It’s perfectly clever.

Putler’s good at multitasking too, and this is where it starts to get really good. Putler can handle more than one PayPal account at the same time. No more logging in and out, then in again to check transactions from different accounts, Putler places them all on the same page so you can see all revenue streams or individual sales from any account. In ParkShare we use two different PayPal accounts. One to process amounts over £10, (well £9.38 to be exact – don’t ask!) then another to handle smaller amounts using a PayPal Micropayments account, of course in ‘PayPal land’ it’s not possible to do both of these things in one account (that would be far too sensible) so you have to switch between the two. Anyone who’s ever tried refunding charges across different accounts will tell you that’s an experience which is clunkier than tap dancing in a pair of concrete clogs – and more likely to result in an injury too.

So if you value your sanity, then head over to Putler.com and take a look, you can even download a free trial complete with dummy data so you can have a play and see how it works. Putler costs between $47 – $97 depending on account level, then $34 per year thereafter, and comes highly recommended.

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There are 101 ways to create a website for free out there on the world wide web but don’t get too carried away with the seductive sales pitch, many of these ‘solutions’ can be a proverbial nightmare both to set up and make changes to – no matter how insignificant they may seem.

Which ever way you cut it; any ‘out of the box’ solution is never going to be a substitute for a custom built site. Some of these services however, in the hands of a professional, can provide a good and flexible framework to work within or just add a few additional features like a blog or news stream. Lets face it in these times of austerity measures many organisations let alone individuals have the kind of budgets needed to get that new idea out there from the beginning. South can help you get up and running and test the waters of your target market for a minimal investment using some of the more well known tools available to us all.

But anyone can do that!

Yes, it’s true. We believe that all of us are capable of creating websites, but creating a good website? That’s a totally different question. Getting it installed, working just as you saw it in the demo – well, you may have discovered already, this isn’t so easy. We can help you register, host, install and set-up your site. No, it’s not a free service but we think that for a small fee having someone on hand to help you through the toughest bits is worth the hair on your head!

Don’t take our word for it.

“I work in IT and so am no stranger to servers and technology in general but recently in recovering a clients website from a catastrophic disk failure I turned to South for help. They were invaluable in providing me with a calm and friendly voice to help me work through the installation issues and database migration amongst other things. Don’t be fooled into thinking this stuff is easy – it’s only easy when you know where to look and what to look for!”
Mr M. Shah, IT Director.

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Martin Houlden

South˚ has won the contract to develop a recruitment portal for the NHS.

The National Health Service is currently going through the fastest and most significant restructuring process in its history. The NHS needs to try and deliver the changes in an intelligent and highly efficient manner, and if not managed efficiently, there is a real risk that key staff could leave the organisation at considerable cost. Also, given the speed of change and uncertainty within the health service at the present time, there is a great deal of concern within the workforce which could result in a negative impact on morale and productivity.

NHSManchesterSo to avoid having to make redundancies and then re-employ skilled staff at even greater expense, NHS Manchester have selected South˚ as their partner to design and develop a staff management and recruitment portal which will greatly enhance the efforts of the internal HR team by matching skilled staff with alternative internal employment opportunities, at a fraction of the cost of using recruitment consultants.

Initially this project is being developed for a cluster of 5 PCTs within Greater Manchester, but with the anticipated annual savings being in excess of £1 million per PCT, per year! we’re confident that other PCTs will sign up once they’ve seen it.

This project is now in development, and we’ll be looking to launch it at the end of June / early July, so please check back soon.

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Martin Houlden

In the world of open-source Content Management Systems (CMS) it’s fair to say that there are some big players amongst the thousands of competing systems. Some are good, some are… well… less proficient than you’d be led to expect!

We have extensive experience in specifying the best solution for your needs, whether than is an open-source solution, or a custom designed one especially built to suit the individual requirements of your company.

But I’d by lying if I didn’t admit to small amount of satisfaction when a client who has previously used one of the popular O/S ‘solutions’ decides it’s far too counter-intuitive and opts for our SouthCMS solution instead. In fact I believe the word “smug” might have been used for moments such as that!

The debate between open-source and bespoke can be applied to every market, yet I think it was best summed up by the tailoring profession who say “A bespoke suit may hurt your wallet when you first buy it, but an off the peg one hurst every time you put it on”. Being a customer of King & Allen I can relate to that! But is software any different?

Well yes, of course, but it boils down to the same choice. Buy something cheap and cheerful and struggle to use it on a daily basis, or pay a bit more, and get something that is a pleasure to use.

Manorhousemagazines.co.uk are a good case in point. Having used one of the largest OS systems available, they found that it simply didn’t fit well with their company – they couldn’t sell products easily, nor keep up-to-date with stock control, and found that due to the ‘one size fits all’ philosophy of open-source systems, they were bombarded by lots of functionality which wasn’t required, and only served to make using the system more complicated.

SouthCMS is built with just the particular modules that you need – no need for hundreds of confusing icons that you’ll never use, just custom built features that you’ll use on a day-to-day basis. For example With SouthCMS you can opt for the ‘Product manager’ module, then you can easily load in products and choose where they’re used throughout the site. Need to update an item? well that’s easy – just update it once, and all the other instances reflect the changes straight away.

It’s small things such as that, which made using SouthCMS a better, more efficient, option for Manor House.

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