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"tWtG" category

The website that grew - part 14

8th June 2014

(for previous installments, try the tWtG category)

As the position on search engines improved, the site's popularity gradually grew. But Kate knew that search engine position wasn't the only way of drawing in customers. Some customers would be interested in connecting with the shop via social media channels, or receiving a newsletter which would give them discounts from time to time. So it was time to look at some of these methods.

First of all, Hugh showed Kate a chart of some of the common methods of online communication with customers.

some social media channels - email, facebook, twitter, quora, pinterest, google plus, website

"You've got to take into consideration what suits your customer base too" said Hugh. "Facebook is a consumer oriented medium, and your customers are consumers, so putting up a facebook page and getting "liked" is important. Once you're on people's facebook streams, it would be crucial to maintain a slow but steady stream of special offers and customer feedback.  But for the non-facebook users, those offers should probably be repeated in a monthly email newsletter."

Kate agreed, and was also quite interested in setting up Google+, twitter, and pinterest accounts, but realised that she did not have time for everything.

"We've talked about return on investment with the Google ads." she asked; "How does it work here?"

"Although we're working with a digital medium, it's sometimes a bit more like traditional advertising when you work facebook," said Hugh, "but you can measure clicks and buys from social media and emails.  So it's really important to do that, and that will give you a very good feel for how much all this work is worth."



The website that grew - part 13

2nd April 2014
Categories: ads, seo, tWtG

(for previous installments, try the tWtG category)

With a working website, and Google ads bringing in traffic, the orders started coming in.

Hugh reviewed the Google ad performance with Kate after two weeks of running the campaigns.

There was an ad saying:

Cheeseboard calculator

Calculate your ideal dinner party cheeseboard

Fine cheeses shipped direct

There was also one saying:

Online cheese shop

The finest world cheeses

Direct to your door

Thanks to the way Hugh had set up Google Ad reporting, they could see that although the first ad was getting dozens of clicks, it was generating relatively few orders. It looked like people wanted the cheeseboard calculator without buying anything. So they "paused" the first ad and added a second "active" ad as follows:

Luxury cheeses

Direct to your door

From our shop in Abingdon

Hugh suggested a new review in a fortnight's time, although after the initial couple of reviews, they would not be so frequent.

Meanwhile the team in the shop had started putting on a bit of content in a 'cheese blog' and they were looking at how different keywords brought people to the site. It turned out that many visitors were locals searching for "french cheese", and because of a blog post on French cheese, and the way in which Google suggested search results from Abingdon if you were using Google from within that town, the website turned up on page 1 for that phrase.

The website that grew, part 12

4th November 2013
Categories: gimp, mobile, tWtG

(for previous installments, try the tWtG category)

A glitch occurred in the website building process, when John tried to look at the website from his phone.

"This is tiny.  How are people supposed to buy cheese from this?"

Kate had briefly discussed mobile website support with Hugh, their web developer, but dismissed it early on because of the cost.

"All you have to do is pinch and zoom.  If people are buying loads from us, we can make a prettier mobile website in a second phase."

"Hmm" said John, but he decided not to argue.

There was another problem with the issue of photographs.  Hugh's website content management system allowed Kate and the others to upload large photos of cheese boards and cheese wrapped in packets, but they would need to take photos on a regular basis, and the photos needed cropping and colour correction.  Hugh wouldn't be able to do this for them every week, unless they paid him.

Hugh introduced Kate to GIMP, a free photo editing tool which does many of the things Photoshop does.  "It's a little quirky", said Hugh, "but once you know how to do the basic things, it's very quick and easy."  Kate struggled at first, but after a session with Hugh and some reading of the online GIMP tutorials, managed to do what she needed.

Finally the website was ready to launch.  Hugh's company put it live and then switched on Google Ads to get more traffic to the site.

The website that grew, part 11

6th July 2013
Categories: design, ecommerce, tWtG

(for previous episodes, try the "The website that grew" category)

Hugh came back to Kate with a draft design, which he said would need to be approved before the website "build" began.

Website designs differ from real websites in the same way that architects' plans or CAD drawings differ from buildings.  On a CAD drawing, one component might be a wall, whereas in reality a wall is made up of several components - not just bricks, but a cavity in between, and possibly plumbing and electricity running through it. It will also need to conform to building regulations.

Designs are typically created in computer graphics packages such as Photoshop or GIMP, which allow designers to work with multiple components, called layers, when creating a design. Sometimes these components exactly match the components that will be used to build the website - for example a button might be a layer in GIMP and a "tag" in HTML, but in many instances the layers are only an approximation of the website components - they are just being used to create a "picture" of how the website will look.

So once the design is agreed, the work of building the website still needs to be done - not only because the HTML needs to be written, but because buttons and links need to work (i.e. make things happen on the website).

Sometimes designers create a "picture" of every page on the website - and sometimes they will create a home page from which other pages can be derived. The former activity is of course more expensive but will make sure that very little can go wrong in terms of the website looking professional and being easy to use.

Hugh's design got rid of the background colour of the existing cheese shop website - everything was on a white background, so the featured cheeses could stand out. He also came up with a few ideas while designing - including a dinner party cheeseboard calculator.

Cheeseboard calculator

The cheeseboard calculator asked users two simple questions: "how many people?" and "how conservative/experimental are their tastes?".  As well as being fun to play with, it would give users a very quick way of catering for the last course of a small dinner party, which made it quicker than buying cheese on a supermarket site - so definitely worth building into the site.

After a few small tweaks to the design, Kate OK'd it, and the website building work began...

The website that grew, part 10

7th March 2013
Categories: google, seo, tWtG

(for previous episodes, try the "The website that grew" category)

Nancy was surprisingly willing to trust Kate's judgement, but had a few questions.

"Can you tell me what factors might prevent the shop from taking 500 online orders every month?"

"I suppose - if people don't find us, or find a cheap competitor, or find a competitor's website easier to use."

"OK, those seem like they might be real difficulties."

"We're investing money with Hugh; he's going to make sure that the website is found."

"Hmm, it doesn't say that on the cost breakdown."

"OK, I'll ask him about that."

"And what about competitors?"

"We need to put effort into the website to make sure it's providing great value, great service, and it's unique.  I think we've learned our lesson there."

"But your job..."

"I'm going to get John and Martin on board.  They can make updates when they're not serving in the shop.  And I will check up on them at least once a week."

"You're very keen on this."

"Yes, I suppose I am.  Seeing what Hugh's done in the past, I can see us running a successful online business here."

Nancy asked if Kate had spoken to her husband John about the proposed developments.  Kate told her that she really wanted Nancy's agreement in principle first, and so Nancy agreed to go ahead with the idea as long as they had a manageable budget for search engine work, and if John was happy.

Hugh proposed a mixture of Google ads and what he called "natural search".  

Google ads appear on the right hand side of the search results whenever you conduct a search on Google, and sometimes at the top.  For your ad to appear, you must bid on a price per click - whether it's 10p or £1, it's your choice.  But you only pay when your ad is clicked.  You can make the ad appear for a number of different search phrases or partial phrases, and you can create different ads and watch how they convert into sales.  For example an ad that advertised your product as "cheap" may get lots of clicks but not generate any sales - so normally you will run diferent ads and compare their performance before whittling them down.

"Natural search" refers to all of the results that are not advertisements.  Google will quickly run through the web pages it knows that are relevant to the search phrase that has been typed, and compare them, for importance and relevance, before displaying them in an order derived from that comparison.  To become more important and relevant takes work on the website copy and structure, and looking at how other websites refer to and trust the website you're trying to promote.

Hugh proposed a sliding scale of costs, starting with a small dip into Google Ads to test the water.  At last Nancy was happy with the proposed costs and Kate spoke to John.

John was happy too, so the work began.

The website that grew, part 9

11th February 2013

"What do you want to achieve with the online shop?" asked Hugh.

"I want to supplement the shop's income." said Kate, "so that we can be more profitable."

"And what does that mean in terms of volume of orders?  A hundred orders a month?  A thousand?  Ten thousand?"

"I really want 500 orders a month online."

"How many customers come to the real shop right now?  As in, how many different people do you see in a month?"

"I'm not sure.  It's probably around 500, but some of those would come back several times in a month."

"OK.  Whichever way look look at it, you need customers from outside Aylesbury, which means advertising online.  So if you're aiming for 500 new orders, you should build something solid, that works, and that brings people back to the site, and something that grows.  When you get to 500 you should be fairly certain that the next month is going to bring more orders, and so on, month after month."

Kate was sceptical.  "How can I be sure that this will happen?  And what's it going to cost?"

"It's not cheap, but cheap will get you the results you're getting now.  We know what works because we've done it before, but it will need your input."

Kate's problem now was that she couldn't spare the time, and John didn't want to. "What if I can't provide much input?  Can you help?"

"We can provide more day-to-day help," said Hugh, "but it is more expensive.  What about your shop assistant - er.. "


"Yes, can he spare any time?"

"Not really, but I think I might be able to persuade John's mum to get involved.   She's started using an iPad and she loves it!"

"OK.  That sounds good."

Hugh and Kate chatted about how the online shop would attract and retain customers, and Hugh promised to put some figures together.  They agreed to ditch the shop and start again with a completely bespoke shop (though built on some readily-available open source software that Hugh had used before).

After 3 days, Hugh came back with a proposal and an estimate.  The estimate contained the following figures*:

website redesign £1000.00
bespoke online catalogue £1000.00
integration with paypal and amazon payments £1000.00
email list management and sales follow up  £1000.00
set up of blog £1000.00
project management and training £1000.00
TOTAL £6000,00

*Please note that the prices in the table above are completely made up; every shop is different and it is no use extrapolating these prices for your individual circumstances.  A web developer will normally discuss your plans, and tailor the solution to your requirements, the speed at which you want to grow, the technology available at the time, and so on.

Although Hugh's pitch had sounded convincing, and he'd also included examples of websites that he'd built which were doing well in terms of sales and visitor numbers, Kate baulked at the cost.  But she sat down with a spreadsheet and worked out the return in investment, and became calmer.  "Once we hit the 500 sales mark", she thought, "it will take just 8 months for the profits to pay off the website."

She did think that John and Nancy would be difficult about the cost, and she resolved to get at least one more quote.  She searched the internet for local web shops, found a few, and fired off some enquiries. She arranged meetings with the ones who seemed most friendly, and in due course received two more estimates, one cheaper than Hugh and one more expensive.  

Then she organised a lunch with Nancy, and we'll find out more soon....

The website that grew, part 8

27th September 2012
Categories: tWtG

Kate decided to try adding 10 products to the ecommerce package she'd bought, 5 different types of cheeses in two sizes.

After photographing the cheese on her iPhone, she uploaded product descriptions, photos and prices.

The off-the-shelf commerce system made her put things in categories, so she eventually decided to put two of the cheeses into a category called "strong" and three into a category called "smooth".

On the design side, she had to choose from a number of colour templates, which didn't quite match the "Smiths Fine Cheeses" site, but looked OK.

When everything was ready, she added a link from the Smiths Fine Cheeses site to the new shop site.  The address of the shop site was, but that didn't matter, as customers went directly from Smiths Fine Cheeses and weren't particularly going to notice.

A couple of months passed, and there were two orders on the system - Kate's first test order for some Smooth and Creamy Oxfordshire Cheese, 500g, and an order from someone in Oxford for some Buckinghamshire String Cheese, 2 x 500g packages.  The order from Oxford caused some excitement as they worked out how best to wrap and post the cheese.  The shop had some great cheese boxes but they hadn't thought about the outer packaging.  They realised after processing the order that the postage and packaging cost way too little at £2.50 and ought really to be more like £4.00.

Another month passed and no orders.  The profit on the one genuine order was more-or-less wiped by the problem with the packaging price, and the cost of the ecommerce package at GetYourDomainsNowUK.Biz was £8.99 per month, so the net loss so far was £26.97.

Meanwhile the real world shop itself was flourishing.  Due to some new developments in Aylesbury, more passing trade was coming through the door and buying the speciality cheeses on offer.  

But Kate was bothered about the online shop, and decided to speak to Hugh again.  

More on that next time!

The website that grew, part 7

23rd August 2012
Categories: tWtG

For previous installments, see the tWtG topic.

In the meeting, Hugh asked John what his budget was. "We have a budget", said John, "but I want you to come up with a price first."

Hugh explained that there were lots of ways to build an online shop, and that it was no use designing a Jumbo Jet when all that was needed was a production line Ford Focus.

"I just want people to be able to buy cheese on the website.  It can't be that complicated, can it?"

"Well," said Hugh, "first of all you've got to consider the catalogue side of things.  Are you selling cheese in pre-defined packages or do you want people to be able to order any size or weight?"

"Any size" said John.

"Then you can't use an off-the-shelf shopping cart system," said Hugh,  "because they only let customers decide on quantity, 1, 2, 3, and so on, not weight, like 250 grams."

"OK, well suppose we stick to the cheaper system."

"Then you've got to consider the checkout process.  The off-the shelf systems usually send customers through quite a laborious process to check out.  Investing a bit more will give you more control, and we can integrate additional ways of checking out, like checkout by Amazon, to make the process even easier for customers who already have an Amazon account."

"For the moment, let's stick with the off-the-shelf checkout."

"OK.  Then there are things like how you keep in touch with customers after they've bought something.  Ideally you want to send them follow-up emails to remind them how good the cheeses were, and giving them offers and discounts if they come to the shop again. "

"Well what do we get 'out of the box'?" asked John. 

"OK, I think I get the picture, and I think what you need is "instant shop" from  This isn't something we specialise in, but it's easy to sign up and get started, and theyprovide lots of help.  Once you get set up, we can link to the online shop from the website and people will be able to buy from you."

John and Kate looked puzzled.

"I'm referring you to because it will take some investment to create something really good that's going to attract and retain a lot of customers.  But I can sense that you just want to get started with something simple, and perhaps if it starts to take off, we can discuss the possibilities again".

John and Kate agreed, and so when they got back home, Kate took a look at getYourDomainsNowUk.Biz and signed up for their "ecommerce starter package".  She hadn't got far before she had to start adding products to the catalogue, and needed John's help for that.

The website that grew, part 6

27th June 2012
Categories: tWtG

For previous installments, see the tWtG topic..

A month went by, much the same as any other, and John happened to be serving in the shop one Saturday afternoon when two Danish tourists walked in.

"Good afternoon", said John.

"Good afternoon", said one of the tourists, "We found you on the internet.  Can we try some of your Yorkshire Mature cheese?"

"Yes, no problem" said John, and lifted one of the cheeses onto the counter, cutting a couple of small slices off with a cheese knife and offering them on the tip of the knife.

"Absolutely delicious" said the Danes, "can we order this back home?  We're from Denmark."

"Err.. yes, we can do a telephone order; I'd have to look up postage prices."

"Can we order them from the website?"

"No, not at the moment.  Would that be easier?"


Back home, Kate was the one dampening John's enthusiasm. "We may have one internet order.  That's not going to pay for Hugh to develop an online shop for us!"

"But think of the potential!"

"I think we need a meeting with Hugh.  It's about time you got involved in the website and understood some of the technical stuff."

"OK, set it up"

So she did.

The website that grew, part 5

2nd June 2012

For previous installments please see the tWtG topic.

Kate got back in touch with the first company she'd asked about search engines.  The managing director, Hugh, replied with the following:

Hi Kate
Good to hear from you again.  Can you come and meet us at our offices?  We're in a converted barn outside of Willowvale.  It would be useful if you prepared a list of what you want to achieve with the website.
Kind regards

Kate organised a morning off work and drove the 15 miles out of Aylesbury to find the Willowvale barns. Hugh's company, Willowvale Interactive Media Partners, was a 3-man company based in a long barn with one room. One of Hugh's colleagues made coffee and they sat down to discuss the "Smiths fine cheeses" site. 

Kate started to explain how they had contracted a search engine company to look after their "internet ranking", and that this company charged a fee every month, but Hugh interrupted to ask what the purpose of the website was.

"It's to bring in more business."

"Can you explain about what kind of customers you'd like to attract?"

"Anyone that buys cheese."

"Including people who buy cheddar at the big supermarket?"

"Yes, if we can change their habits."

"Do you want them to come to the shop, or are you interested in selling over the internet?"

"Shop at first - we don't want to invest too much until we can see what the website can do."

Hugh understood Kate's caution, but advised against trying to attract everyone to the shop. He introduced the idea of putting the shop on the "tourist map". Kate was very responsive to the idea, and they discussed a few new pages the website could have, in order to connect with Aylesbury-related searches.

Hugh also explained that changes at Google were shaking up the search engine optimisation world, preventing optimisers from improving a website's rank entirely through linking, and placing more emphasis on content. 

They got onto technical details.  Hugh asked how the content was updated.  In fact, Kate's brother Harry had built the site with Dreamweaver, and it wasn't easy for Kate to update, so they agreed that Hugh would change the website to use a content management system.

A week or so later, it was all set up, and Kate was able to add a couple of new pages designed at attracting tourists to "Aylesbury's famous cheese shop".

John was still not convinced.

The website that grew, part 4

28th March 2012
Categories: seo, tWtG

Part 4

Time passed, and the website was forgotten.  John took on some of Martin's ideas for improving the layout of the shop, but all in all, the shop simply plodded on.

At the end of one month, Nancy (John's mother and the shop's book-keeper) was going over the accounts and found the £100 paid to the search engine optimisation company.

"What's this, John?"
"Oh, that must be that company the missus hired to put us on the first page of Google."
"Is it working?"
"As far as I know, yes."  John paused.  He called through to the living room where Kate was enjoying a small glass of red wine: "Kate?"
"What is it, hun?"
"Is that search engine thing working?"
"What search engine thing?"
"That company you hired to put us on page one of Google."
"Hang on, I'll check."

Kate fired up her laptop and searched for "cheese shops in Aylesbury".
"Hey!" she called, a few moments later.
"What is it?"
"Looks like it's working fine, we're in the number 3 spot!"

John looked at Nancy and frowned.  Nancy frowned too.  "How is this helping us, John?"
As if having exactly the same thought, Kate appeared in the doorway.  "What are we expecting the website to deliver?" she asked.
"I probably haven't given it enough thought, to be honest." answered John.
"If we fail to plan, we plan to fail." Nancy murmured.

"OK", said Kate, how about we take it out of my brother's hands and talk to a proper web company?  If they're any good, they should help us decide what to do with it, and at the very least it should be sending new customers to the shop.  Half of Aylesbury doesn't even know about us."
"If that means spending more money, .. then I'm not sure." John ventured.
"Look, what if we halt the Google stuff for a couple of months but put the money aside for some website improvements?"
"I don't like to offend your brother, Kate."
"Don't worry about him; he'll be alright."
"OK, let's give it a go.."


  • When you have a website, have a regular review to ensure that it is working hard for your business.
  • Being no.1 on google is nothing without an effective website.
  • Take advice from more than one person about what makes an effective website.

The website that grew, part 3

8th March 2012
Categories: seo, tWtG

Some weeks went by, and a customer in the shop remarked "I tried to find you on the internet, but I couldn't."

John told Kate, and Kate did a search for "cheese shops in Aylesbury". She couldn't find "Smith's fine cheeses".

"A site's pretty useless if no-one can find it", she told Harry.

"But you just asked for a website!" he protested.

Kate sighed. "OK, but what can we do?"

"I've got a lot on at the moment. I think you need professional help."

But where to start? Kate had heard of cold-calling web optimisers and spam email from search engine cowboys. She wanted to get it right. So she decided to do a Google search and interview a couple of companies that came up.

She sent enquiries to both, and received the following responses:


"Hi Kate,

Thanks for your enquiry. We can certainly help. I would prefer to meet in person to discuss your needs and then put the right measures in place. Would you be available on Thursday of this week? I'm in town seeing another customer then."


"Hi Kate,

Thanks for your enquiry. With our strictly legal and white-hat optimisation techniques we can put you on page 1 of Google within 1 month, or you pay nothing! We charge £100/month for keeping you on page 1 for selected phrases; see our enclosed brochure for information on satisfied clients. Please reply with your list of preferred phrases and we will start straight away!"

Kate was not available on Thursday and liked the idea of paying a fixed price, so when she'd discussed it with John (who said "Gosh, well, if that's what it takes, I suppose we'd better bite the bullet") she engaged search engine company no. 2 and away they went.

Within a few weeks, the cheese shop was no.2 in Google for "cheese shops in Aylesbury".

Success! Or was it? Find out next time....


  • When you plan your website, write down all of your aims, and convey them to your web developer.

The website that grew, part 2

3rd March 2012
Categories: tWtG

Harry sent Kate a proposed design, as an email attachment. It looked like this:

Cheese shop website

It wasn't what Kate expected so she immediately rattled off an email with a few improvements that could be made before she showed it to John:

"Hi Harry

That's great, I like the picture, but could we get one on the home page of John maybe serving a customer? I think it would add a personal touch.

Also can we make it more colourful? It just looks a bit boring at the moment, sorry!

I think having our email address would be good too - the shop email, which is Can you put this somewhere prominent?

Harry was busy the next week, but two weeks later he sent the revised design, which Kate showed to John.

"What do you think of it?" asked John.

"I'm showing it to you. What I think doesn't matter; what do you think?"

"I think it's good, but take off the photo of me and just put the counter on."

"Are you sure?"

"People don't want to see me; they want to see the shop."

"OK, if you're sure."

cheese shop website, revision

Kate called Harry and asked him when the website could go live. He reminded her that he needed the content for the other web pages. After a short delay, they were sent, but Harry had to work out how to buy a domain and put the website on it, as his experience with websites was just a product of tinkering.

After a bit of research, Harry plumped for "" who offered a £2.99/month deal, which sounded quite good.

Finally the website went live, and everyone breathed a sign of relief - the job was done.

Or was it? Find out in the next installment!


  • Before you start a design, get the direct involvement of the people who will be signing it off.

cheese image by Alex Anlicker and published under Creative Commons licence

The website that grew [a website fiction], part 1

21st February 2012
Categories: tWtG

When John's dad died in late 2011, John and Kate decided to move back to Aylesbury and run the cheese shop. Kate was already working in Aylesbury, and John had been doing odd jobs since he left university, so taking over the shop seemed a sensible idea.

The shop was a small, friendly shop, based off Picklegate, and had been serving fine cheese to the good people of Aylesbury since 1938.

John's mum, Nancy, did the accounts, and the shop employed an assistant, Martin. John had some idea of how the shop worked, but he'd need help.

The first meeting with Martin did not go well. Martin felt that he knew a whole lot more than John, and wanted to set him straight on a few things. The shop needed a better counter, better displays, a better stock system, and a website. John listened though, and wrote everything down, but talking to Nancy, he discovered that the shop couldn't afford any of those things.

"It seems in worse shape than I expected", John said to Kate that evening. "What are we going to do?"

They went over some of the ideas. Most of them would have to be postponed until they had more cash in the business. "My brother can help with the website, though" said Kate.

"Fine" said John, "Can you sort out the details with him? I just don't have time at the moment."

Kate didn't think this was the best way of doing things, but agreed to help out.

"Hi Katie, how's tricks?"

"Not bad, Harry. Have you got a moment?"

"Yeah, what's up?"

"John wants to do a website for the shop."

"OK,.. what sort of website?"

"Just a simple website, advertising the shop. Can you do it?"

"It'd be useful to talk to John about it."

"He says he's really busy; can we do it over phone or email? Or maybe you could come 'round at the weekend?"

"OK, how about lunch on Saturday?"


"But you owe me."

"OK Harry, no problem."

Harry ended up sitting down with both Kate and John to talk about the website, but after listing his main requirements ("it has to tell people where we are, and it can't have prices on, because it would be too much work updating it"), John got restless and went off to do something else.

Kate added that it should have photos of the shop counter and photos of John, Nancy, and Martin, and something about being a family-run business on the home page.

In the end Harry agreed to put something together, for Kate's approval, for the last week in February.

(And I'll tell you more about that in my next post)

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