How To Do Keyword Research!

6 Steps To Follow For Your Keyword Research – Updated 22nd March 2017

Keywords remain an essential part of SEO strategy for both organic and paid traffic optimisation. With the Hummingbird update long-tail keywords became more important to SEO. As a result keyword research needs to consider optimising a website on a semantic level to inform a site’s architecture and segment site topics into thematic areas.

This has made keyword research more complex but it is still an important element of SEO strategy. Below are 19 of the more popular keyword tools that are often recommended by SEO experts. But first here is a 6 step guide to how to do keyword research:


1. Identify important topics to your business.


Draw up a list of all the important and relevant topics that relate to your business. Start with general topics (e.g. landing page optimization & web analytics).

2. Produce a list of keywords for general topic.


These should be keyword phrases that you consider it will be important to rank on in SERPs (search engine results pages). These key hear is to capture all your ideas as this won’t be the final list of keywords. Remember to use your web analytics to identify what keywords your site is already getting found for.


3. Examine related search terms.


Go to Google and start typing one of your phrases and see what related search terms are suggested by Google. These suggestions may generate more ideas for new keywords that you hadn’t previously considered. You can also take them a step further by typing some of the related search terms into Google to see what their related search terms are.


4. A mix of
head terms & long-tail keywords.


Head terms are short keyword phrases, usually one to three words. Long-tail keywords tend to contain three or more words.  People generally search using head terms more frequently and so they tend to be more competitive and harder to rank compared to long-tail terms. On the other hand long-tail terms are more specific and give you a better understanding of what people are really looking
for. For this reason you need a good mix of both types of terms.


5. How do your competitors rank on keywords?


Understanding what keywords your competitors are targeting is useful from two perspectives. It can provide ideas for reviewing your own list of keywords. Additionally, where you are both targeting the same keyword it means that you may have to work harder to improve your own ranking.

However, don’t just copy the keywords that your competitors target, they may not always be relevant and it will also make it more difficult to improve your rankings. By targeting keywords that
your competitors are ignoring may give you a quick win by allowing you establish high ranking for these terms due to a lack of competition.  Use tools like SEMrush and others outlined below to find out which keywords your competitors are ranking on.


6. Keyword list reduction.


Use tools such as Google AdWords Keyword Planner to reduce the number of terms in your list. This will help to ensure you are focussed on terms that have reasonable number of searches (i.e. neither too little or too much). Use Google Trends to find out their
trend history and forecasts so that you don’t remove terms that have potential in the future.

20 Awesome Keyword Research Tools:


1. AuthorityLabs: Track historical rankings and view graphical representation of how a keyword is ranking over time. Allows you to automate your SEO monitoring, track local rankings and recover (not provided) keywords.

30 day Free trail available. The Basic plan is priced at $24 a month and offers 100 keywords and up to10 domains. The Plus plan costs $49 a month for up to 250 keywords and 50 domains. The Pro, their most popular plan costs  $99 a month for 1,000 keywords and 100 domains. The Enterprise plan starts at $450 a month for 5,000 + keywords and unlimited domains.

2. Bing Keyword Research Tool: All data is based on organic searchers over the last 6 months and provides ideas and suggestions for your content. Just sign up for  Bing Webmaster Tools to access the keyword research resource.

3. Blog Post Headline Analyzer: This Free tool is from CoSchedule and will analyse headlines for length, how powerful or emotionally engaging the words are, how uncommon the words are and provide recommendations to improve your headline.

4. ContentForest Pro: This is an SEO-led content marketing tool that analyses your content and provides on-page optimization recommendations to update and prioritise your keyword list for an efficient content creation strategy. It will give you an overview of which keywords you are already ranking so you don’t end up duplicating effort.

ContentForest also has an excellent suite of Free SEO tools, including KeywordKiwi which allows you to find long tail keywords based upon what people are searching for on Google. For blogs, ContentIdeator generates anywhere from 10 to 100 blog post title suggestions when you input a keyword. There are also a pagerank, social share, and broken link checker to name just a few.


5. Google Adwords Keyword Planner: A Free Adwords Tool that allows you to search for keyword and ad group ideas, get historical data, see how a list of keywords might perform and set up a new keyword list by multiplying several keywords together.

6. Google Keyword Suggest Tool: An easy to use tool from  for identifying longer and more specific phrases to narrow targeting. Enter a term and it will generate a list of the most popular keyword phrases that all begin with the base word – using Google, Amazon, YouTube and Bing “suggest” data bases. The tool generates phrases for every letter of the alphabet. Choose a phrase and then move to the next step to generate more phrases.

7. Google Trends: Is a Free tool that allows you to view what people have been searching for with Google. It graphs how often a term is used over time and how this varies geographically. It allows you to generate predictions of how search volumes are changing. You can also compare more than one term to view their relative popularity.

8. iSpionage: Provides insights into competitors’ effective keywords, ad copy and budget. A highly recommended tool for finding out what your competitors are up to.

Free trial available for all plans. For keyword research the Silver plan costs $69 a month with unlimited searches and 10,000 data exports a day. The Gold plan comes in at $99 a month for unlimited searches, 50,000 data exports a day and 10 competitor alerts. For additional services such as daily landing page and web page monitoring, the Campaign plans costs $129 (Pro)  and $299  (Premier) a month.


9. Keyword Discovery Tool: One of the most popular keyword tools that provides keyword search statistics from all the major search engines. It will provide the search phrases that people use to find a product or service. It should help you identify the search terms driving traffic to your competitors.

The Standard plan is currently at a special discount price of $29.95 per month for up to 3 domain research results and 20 projects. The Professional plan costs $199.95 per month for up to 100 domains and unlimited number of projects. Both plans allow up to 1,500 searches a day, with 1,000 results displayed and 10,000 terms per project.

10. Keyword Multiplier Tool (Clever Clicks): This is a free tool that allows you to generate a list of all possible keyword phrases. Just type in your list of keywords and the tool will produce a list of every phrase variation possible.

A simple tool that requires you to enter the following information :
Box 1: Primary keywords
Box 2: Secondary keywords
Box 3: Location

11. The Free version is excellent for finding out what people are looking for as it produces around 750 suggestions for each keyword. The suggestions generated depend on the specific Google domain and language that you select.

The Pro plans start from $48 a month and offer:

  • Up to 1,440+ keywords from Google and YouTube, 1,875+ from Bing, 3,750+ from App Store returned for a single search.
    On average 2x more keywords than in free version
  • Google search volume
  • Level of competition on Google AdWords
  • Suggested bid on Google AdWords
  • Ability to export all the data to a CSV file
  • Ability to sort keywords by any parameter

The Pro Lite plan ($48 a month) offers 2 times more keywords than the free plan and the ability to export data in CSV.  The Pro Basic ($68 a month) also gives you search volumes to understand how popular a keyword is. In addition Pro Plus ($88 a month) provides CPC and competition on AdWords.

12. searchmetrics: Essentials is their standard keyword research tool. The suggest function will show you where the specified domain ranks for a particular keyword, plus you can add and tag keywords using the tool.

The Essentials plan costs $69 a month for limited access to their database,   $2,000, up to 1 year of visibility history, up to 3 countries, up to 10,000 rankings per report and current historic keyword rankings.

The Suite Business ($2,000 a month) is an integrated SEO solution built for smaller brands and beginners. This provides complete visibility history,  all countries, up to 20,000 rankings per report and historic keyword rankings for the last 6 months. Additionally this provides content and site structure optimization, extensive backlink analysis and other services.

Prices for their Suite Enterprise and Suite Ultimate plans can be obtained by request.


13. SEMRUSH: The industry standard keyword research tool identifies your main competitors based upon the keywords you plan to target. Click on your competitors and it will show you what other keywords they target ad to and the ad copy they use. Highly recommended for seeing who your top paid and organic competitors are for the keywords you plan to use.

It allows you to easily combine and visualise SEMrush data to compare competitive domains and estimate keyword difficulty. For projects it enables you to launch global campaigns and view all the key metrics regarding competitors, keyword rankings, and on-page health in once place.

Plans start from $69.95 per month for Pro which offers 10,000 results per report, 3,000 reports per day, 5 projects and the ability to track 500 keywords. The Guru plan which costs $149.95 per month provides up to 30,000 results per report, 5,000 reports a day, up to 50 projects and the ability to track 1,500 keywords.

Finally, the Business plan comes in at $549.95 per month and delivers up to 50,000 results per report, 10,000 reports per day (for each of 4 users), unlimited projects and resources for tracking up to 6,000 keywords.


14. SerpStat: A Free keyword tool which filters results to show only the questions that people enter into the search box. It provides you with popular keywords and their various forms used by people who are searching for interesting products, services or information. It collects and aggregates search suggestions, providing them with the ability to download in a TXT file. It is very good for giving you the how-to content and frequently asked questions.


15.Soovle: A very easy to use and Free keyword tool which generates a list of the best keywords by analysing search engines Google, Wikipedia, Amazon,, YouTube, Bing and Yahoo!


16. Spyfu: A great tool for identifying all the places where your competitors show up on Google. It will show you all their keywords and the ad variations they have employed. Excellent for understanding your competitors’ most profitable keywords.

The Basic plan costs $79 a month with unlimited keyword and domain results, track up to 400 keywords, over 9 years of AdWords and organic history,  and 250 sales leads and domain contacts. Professional costs $139 per month, and offers everything in the Basic plan in addition to rank tracking of up to 800 keywords and access to their API.

Lastly the Agency plan is priced at $999 per month and delivers unlimited custom reporting and keyword rank tracking. Further, you can search monthly data which allows you to track a domain’s weekly rank updates on keywords that you select. You can save up to 47% on the cost of a plan by choosing an annual subscription.

17. StoryBase:  [New] – StoryBase have spent 3 years creating this very easy to use keyword tool. It now has more than 5 billion long-tail keywords, 100 million question keywords and 2 billion related LSI keywords.

A free plan is available for a single user with to 10 searches a month, 15 results per search and one list. A starter plan for a single user costs just $9 a month with unlimited searches, up to 400 results per search and ten lists. The Premium plan for up to 5 users costs $79 per month for unlimited searches, up to 1,000 results per search, 1,000 lists and offers priority support.

18. Tinyranker: A simple, but flexible all-in-one SEO tool. As well as keyword analysis, Tinyranker provides for tracking keyword rankings,  on-page SEO and competitor keyword rankings.

30 day free trial available for all plans. Prices start from $19 a month for up to 100 keywords. An agency plan is available for $119 a month for up 2000 keywords.


19. Ubersuggest: A simple and Free keyword suggestion tool that begins to pull in keyword suggestions from Google and other sources the second you start to type. Often used for PPC and SEO keyword research.


20. WordStream’s Free Keyword Suggestion Tool: A Free tool that allows you to run a limited number of searches in its massive keyword database.  A fast tool which holds over 1 trillion keywords in its database. Excellent for long-tail keyword suggestions.

Thank you for reading my post. If you found this post useful please feel free to share it using the social network icons below or at the top of this post.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, check out the Conversion Uplift  Facebook page or connect on LinkedIn.

8 Steps Guaranteed To Boost Your Conversion Rate.

How To Optimize Your Website:

The biggest mistake that people make when they begin website optimization is not having a well-defined process to ensure a robust and systematic approach to improving revenues or other key metrics for their website.

Without such a process you are almost certainly going to fail to fully utilise you’re A/B testing tool and achieve consistent and sustainable gains in your conversion rate. Follow this eight
step approach below and you are much more likely to see measurable and significant benefits from website optimization.

Step 1. Start Measuring Visitor Behaviour.



Image of Webtrends Analytics homepage


You can’t improve what you don’t measure. It’s critical that
you have web analytics on your site to monitor unique visitor numbers on all your pages and begin measuring conversion goals such as downloads, registrations, add to basket and other relevant transactions.

If you don’t have any budget get Google Analytics as there is a free version that will meet most of your needs. It only takes a few minutes to insert a line of JavaScript into your HTML. You can also check out my post on the importance of web analytics for a list of other solutions.

Once you have your web analytics integrated and goals set up
you can start to see what visitor numbers you have on different pages and how your conversion rate varies from one page to another.  This will help guide you to focus on those pages that matter and where you can conduct A/B tests to measure the impact of
your optimisation activity.

Step 2: Technical Analysis:


Image of bug deer
Source: Freeimages


Ok, so your site is slow to load, you have a few bugs on your website and intermittent downtime. Poor load speed, bugs and outage time
create anxiety and frustrations which will destroy trust and credibility in your site. Unless you fix these problems first you will not fully benefit from improvements to your site.  It is imperative that you give priority to resolving these issues before trying to optimise your site via A/B testing and improvements in functionality.

There are some great tools like BugMuncher that can
help you identify issues with your customer experience. BugMuncher automatically allows your visitors to capture and send you a screen shot of the offending page. It also provides full technical details, such as the browser and plugins that the visitor is using, together with how they arrived at that page.



Loadspeed is important because we all have limited patience
and many visitors will exit your site if it takes more than a second or two to load. Google rankings also take into account site speed and so your SEO may suffer if you have a slow loading site.

Go into your Google Analytics account and select Behaviour
> Site speed > Page timings. Choose the Document interactive time as your key metric as this measures the time it takes for the site to be usable. This is more relevant than the content load time as that measures the number of seconds until every element on the page has been loaded.

As a rule of thumb if your site loads within 3 seconds that is pretty good performance. More normal is between 4 to 7 seconds, but don’t be satisfied with that, look to reduce it. Anything more than 7 seconds and you definitely should be looking to take action to reduce the time your visitors have to wait to interact with your website.  Begin by looking at those pages with the highest amount of visitors so that you focus on where you can have most impact.

Google Analytics load speed report

Use Google Developers PageSpeed Insights or alternative
 to investigate how to improve page load times. Put your score into context create a league table by getting your competitors’ speeds for a comparative page.  This will also identify which competitors have the fastest loadspeed and so you can explore how they achieve such quick interaction times.

Cross-Browser and Device Testing:

Despite our best intentions it is unlikely that your website user experience and functionality will work perfectly for all browsers and devices. Use your web analytics to see how your conversion rate varies for each type of device by all browsers you support. This will help identify where your customer experience and functionality is not what it needs to be for each device. Running reports across device is not sufficient as averages will hide the real performance of your site.

Use one of the many cross-browser testing tools on the market to evaluate how your site behaves in each of the browsers you support.  These tools will save you a lot of time and money be allowing you to quickly see images of your website across multiple devices and browsers.


Step 3. Heuristic Analysis:


Image of lift model


I use the Widerfunnel Lift Model to undertake an experience-based evaluation of the potential shortfalls of a website.  This is best
carried out in a group of 3 or more people to benefit from the different experience and skills in your organisation. Involve people from key areas of the business that assist you in the process of making changes or developing new designs.

Bringing in people from other areas will help get their buy-in to the changes proposed and they are also likely pass on their enthusiasm for optimization to some of their colleagues. This may make the
whole testing process run more smoothly as people generally respond positively to a collaborative approach.

Beginning with pages that have most visitors and potential for improving conversion go through a heuristic analysis as follows:

1. Value proposition –  What is your value proposition  communicating to visitors, both in terms of points of difference from your competitors and from a psychological perspective to motivate them.

2. Relevance – how relevant is the content to the user, does it meet their expectations, how does it relate to the source of traffic?

3. Clarity – how clear are your messages, what the next steps are, the visual hierarchy and CTAs?

4. Friction – what about the page could create anxiety, doubts or concerns among visitors

5. Distraction – what content is not assisting conversion and may be distracting visitors?

6. Urgency – does the page create a sense of urgency to take
action now rather than later? homepage

Step 4: Web Analytics:

Web analytics provide indicative data on visitor numbers and
behaviour. Don’t assume your web analytics are measuring everything perfectly and where possible use multiple analytics tools to validate your findings. You are bound to find some issues with how your analytics are set up, and get your developers to investigate and rectify these problems when you can.


Google Analytics homepage

Averages lie so always segment your reports using appropriate metrics such as user type, source of traffic, demographics etc.  One you have set up goals, segments and events in your web analytics you should also establish conversion funnels to identify drop-off points.

Always have a clear question or hypothesis to challenge before you start generating reports using your web analytics. This will help avoid you producing interesting but not actionable data.  With your web analytics you should be seeking to answer questions like:

  • Where do most visitors arrive on my site?
  • What are the most popular user flows on my site?
  • What are the conversion rates for the most frequently
    visited pages by new and returning visitors?
  • Where are the biggest drop-off points in user journeys?
  • What is the impact and performance of every widget and
    feature on a page?
  • What are the demographics of your visitors and how do their
    conversion rates compare for your pages with the highest amount of traffic?

Step 5: Visual Analytics.

To get a more visual perspective of how your visitors interact with your pages get access to heatmaps, session recordings and form
analytics for your site.  The main providers such as Click Tale, Decibel Insight SessionCam and new start-up Hotjar are summarised in my post on visual analytics solutions.

Hotjar Analytics homepage

Many offer free plans that allow you to check out their service without any obligation. These tools can provide invaluable insights into user behaviour and engagement on your website. The main services that are worth getting access to are:

Mouse movement and click heatmaps:

These heatmaps provide an indication of where specifically on a page users focus their attention, what they hover over and what they click on. You can usually include the average fold height and scroll reach on the heatmap to see how this impacts upon user behaviour.  If visitors are not clicking on a CTA or widget on the page this will show you what they are engaging with.  Use these heatmaps to challenge or support your heuristic evaluation of a page. But make sure you have a sufficiently robust sample size, usually around 2,000, but ideally more like 5,000 visitors, to provide a reliable measure of user behaviour. heatmap

Scroll and attention heatmaps:

Scroll heatmaps show a visual representation of the proportion and time visitors spend scrolling down the page before they navigate
away. They confirm if your page is encouraging users to go below the fold and what proportion of visitors see each section of the page.

Attention heatmaps are similar except they are configured to show a visual representation of how long visitors spend on each part of the page.  Knowing the drop-off rate of visitors as they go down the page helps you understand how much visibility different elements of
your page are receiving and whether you need to move or change content on the page.

Session recordings:

Watch video recordings of individual user sessions to gain a
better understanding of how visitors interact, scroll, click and navigate on your site. Examine real visitor behaviour that is not inhibited by test conditions and will allow you to identify areas where sign-posting, information architecture and navigation are sub-optimal. session recordings

Most tools offer advanced search filtering to allow you to find videos of customers who complete or drop out of pre-defined or post-defined business process, scenario or funnel.  This can include registration form or check-out abandonment.

Form analytics:

This is a must for any website that has any type of registration or information collection process. Form analytics provides metrics
of how effective and easy to complete your form is and gives you a breakdown of each field within it.

Typically form analytics allow you to measure the overall completion rate of your form, abandonment rate, engagement rate, time from start to form completion, time spent in each field, which fields are most often abandoned, which fields are most frequently left blank when the form is submitted and what order are fields filled out. You should also be able view session recordings of visitors completing or abandoning your form.

Step 6: Voice Of The Customer Feedback.

Your most important source of feedback on the performance of
your site is your visitors. Your site is designed for them and so their
expectations and understanding of your site are paramount.  Whatever you do though, don’t use focus groups as this is an online experience and it is important that you retain that context.

The best time to ask people questions about your website is
when they are navigating their way around it and can provide an immediate and accurate view of what they think about it. The human brain is notoriously poor at recalling details after an event, so concentrate on people who are browsing to understand the issues they face when trying to complete a task.

Onsite Surveys:

There are many online voice of the customer tools such as
Surveymonkey,  Feedbackify and also visual analytics supplier HotJar.  These tools enable you to place a widget on your site to ask visitors to participate in surveys.

People come to a website with a task in mind and so you should aim to use these tools to discover more about what they are trying to achieve, whether they completed their objective in full and what barriers they hit during their user journey.  This should help you generate ideas for improvements and may support your earlier heuristic analysis.

Exit and abandonment surveys:

Carrying on with the theme of capturing feedback in the moment of the experience, exit and abandonment surveys are also powerful ways of gathering insights about a specific event. Whether they are about close their browser or have abandoned their basket invaluable insights may be gleaned from engaging them with a feedback form at this critical moment in the user journey.

Live Chat:

If you have a live chat facility on your website this can also be used to gather voice of the customer feedback. This could be as simple
as asking your chat hosts about what visitors have most problems with or use it to specifically engage in qualitative research.

Virgin Atlantic Live Chat Window

Give your chat hosts a few simple open ended questions to ask visitors on certain pages or processes and see what they come back with. You will be surprised how keen visitors can be to give feedback to someone who is keen to listen.

Email Surveys:

For recent customers where you have their email address you
have the advantage of being able to send them links to a survey. As they are relatively new customers focus more on understanding their perception of your value proposition. What attracted them to your website, what do they see as its strengths, and which competitor’s sites do they also visit or buy from? This can improve your understanding of what areas of your value proposition may
attract new customers to your site.

The key thing to remember about surveys though is to ensure
you get a larger enough sample size to provide reliable data. Unless you get at least a minimum of 100 responses you may be in danger of putting too much weight on the views of a small section of your customer base.  Try and collect some demographic data in your
questionnaire so that you can compare the profile of respondents with your overall target audience. This will help you understand how representative your respondents are of your overall visitor base.

Step 7: Usability Testing:

As Steve Krug mentions in his classic book about usability Don’t make me think, one user testing your site is better than no users.  However, try not to rely on people in the office to test your site as there are likely to be too close to your website and probably won’t be representative of your average user.

If you decide to recruit people to do usability testing in a lab or meeting room make sure you observe and listen to what people say, rather than asking direct questions. People are very good at post-rationalising decisions they make, but this won’t necessarily reflect how they behave in reality.

There are many online usability testing tools that allow you
to recruit people remotely, whether to evaluate a new design or your existing website. It’s important here to give respondents a suitable task to complete so that you have a clear understanding of the context of their feedback.

You can use a tool such as Hotjar to recruit visitors yourself and then arrange to share screens via Skype. Alternatively you may prefer to employ an online usability provider such as  to recruit and conduct the research for you. There are also companies such as who will provide a comprehensive suite of usability services from card sorting to help with website architecture to full site usability testing. See my post on how to do usability research to improve conversions for more details.


Usability Hub

If you prefer to watch videos of your real users talking about your website or evaluating new designs you may want to consider Whatusersdo or UserBob. Video can be very powerful with your stakeholders to bring issues to life from the user’s perspective.

Step 8: Evaluate & Prioritise.

Now list all your ideas, issues and opportunities and place
each of them in one of five categories.

1. Test: Where there is a clear opportunity to test an idea
to improve conversion. You may have some strong hypothesis, but if it’s not a no brainer for everyone you may require evidence to get resource to implement or to convince colleagues that it will increase conversion significantly enough. Where the idea affects a business critical process (e.g. check out) you should test it to manage the risk that it could reduce rather than improve conversion.

2. Measurement:  Where
you find problems in your analytics and reporting that mean you can’t track everything you need for evaluating the performance of your website.

3. Create a hypothesis: You’ve identified an issue with a
page or a journey but there is no clear solution to the problem.  This will benefit from gathering more data and collaborating with other people in the organisation to generate hypothesis that can form the basis for a test plan.

4. Implement: This may be a no-brainer or a small opportunity
to improve conversion. Where there is little, if any, risk to conversion and it requires little effort to fix then you are best implement it rather than waste valuable resource testing it.

5. Investigate: Where you are not sure what the nature of the
problem is or you need to do more testing to better understand the journey. This will often also require more data collection, whether it is web analytics or Voice Of the Customer.

Next we undertake a process of prioritisation to ensure we
use our time and resource on those items that will have most impact on revenues or whatever your key performance indicator is.  This should help your ROI as you begin with the issues that can have a big impact and leave the less salient ideas to another day.

To rate individual ideas I use the Widerfunnel approach of  evaluating issues on the basis of PIE (Performance, Impact and Ease). See my post on how to prioritise A/B testing ideas for details, but you can use these criteria for quickly rating each item on a scale of 1 to 5.

Performance is about how bad the page is now, is there potential for a big improvement. Your heuristic analysis should have identified
these pages as having fundamental problems.

Importance is measured by the number of visitors going to
this page and the cost of traffic that you send their.

Ease is about how much time and effort it will take to fix it or develop a test variant.  If it’s going to take a number of months to get the resource and it could be difficult to implement then you need to give this item a lower rating so that you can get on with some of the important but easy things to fix.


Once you have completed this process you should have many
potential items to fix, test or investigate and this will allow you to increase your test run-rate and focus on the things that really have an impact.  Repeat this process every few months depending upon how quickly you get through your list of actions.

I would also consider presenting a summary of your findings
and the items that you plan to test or fix to your senior stakeholders. This will help-ensure you have buy-in from them which may be important if you are going to test anything that challenges existing brand values or other politically sensitive aspects of the site.

Thank you for reading my post. I hope you found this post useful and if you did please share using the social media links at top and bottom of this page.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

Further reading:

You Should Test That: Conversion Optimization for More Leads, Sales and Profit or The Art and Science of Optimized Marketing


Peep Laja outlines a comprehensive process for website optimization in his post ‘How to come up with more winning tests using data’.


  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as,, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.

21 Powerful SEO Link Building Tools To Drive More Traffic To Your Site.

 What Is Link Building?

Updated 11th May 2017:

Establishing good quality back-links to your website is crucial to improving the credibility of your site. It’s the only way that Google bots can tell if other people value your content. You can use SEO tools to Identify what content gets linked to most so that you can prioritise your content marketing activities to ensure resources are targeted in the right areas.

Care needs to be taken though as Google can penalise anything that looks like link building for its own sake as the priority should be to create quality content that people want to share. Your Google site ranking is of course determined by a number of factors such as citations, brand mentions and the quality of links.

For a brilliant and comprehensive article on how to build links read ‘The Complete List Of Link Building Tactics’ by Jon Cooper. From my research the top 3 link building tools that I have come across are:

  1. SEMRush
  2. Google Webmaster Tools
  3. Majestic SEO

Below I have summarised 21 of the top SEO link building tools:

Image of chain links never bust


SEO Outreach and Link Building Solutions:

1. ahrefs: Claims to have the largest index of backlinks. It is updated every 15 minutes and is highly recommended for identifying the number of referring domains that a site has, how many of these come from unique IPs, and how natural is your link growth over time.

Monthly plans range from $79 for Lite to £1,299 for Premium.7 day money back trial available.

Ahrefs homepage image

2. Audisto: This is a tool to analyse websites and is able to crawl through millions of pages. The crawler can identify problems with the site structure, HTML code and technical issues, together with finding your most valuable pages and the best pages to link to and form.

Audisto hompeage image

Monthly plans are based upon a sliding scale of the number of pages crawled. Plans start from €90 a month for up to 100,000 pages crawled, €120 for up to 1,000,000 pages, and go up to €1,590 for 50,000,000 pages.

3. BuzzStream: A dedicated link building site which allows you to import lists of websites for prospecting and provides useful data for deciding which websites you should target.  It will provide the domain authority of a site and how many followers they have on Twitter. It also allows you to easily contact websites through BuzzStream.

Monthly plans range from $29 for Starter to $249 for Premium. Free trial available.

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4. BuzzSumo: A comprehensive SEO and content marketing tool. It is invaluable for helping to identify the most shared content across all social networks and run detailed analysis reports. Find influencers in any new topic area, and review the content they shared.  ideas for new content. The “Backlink” tab shows the social shares of the the most popular inbound links.Track your competitor’s content performance and do detailed comparisons.

Monthly plans range from $79 for Pro to $239 for Agency. Contact BuzzSumo for Enterprise plans.

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5. DeepCrawl:  DeepCrawl is a comprehensive website crawler, designed to identify and monitor technical aspects that could affect your SEO performance. It is good at identifying duplicate pages, pages with meta titles that are too long, duplicate pages and pages that take too long to load.

Monthly plans range from £50 for Starter to £1,050 for Enterprise.

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6. Followerwonk: A  Twitter analytics app from Moz that you can use to find influential people by topic name, The app also allows you to compare users, analyse followers and sort users by name, days on Twitter, Tweet count and more.

The analyse followers function enables you to segment users into a number of psychographic groups including gender, location, and Twitter activity. 30 day Free trial available.

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7. Google Adwords Keyword Planner:  A Free tool from Google, Keyword Planner helps to build new search network campaigns or expanding existing ones. You can search for keyword and ad group ideas, get historical statistics, see how a list of keywords might perform and create a new keyword list by multiplying several lists of keywords together.

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8. Google Webmaster Tools: A Free tool from Google. If you use Google Analytics it is simple to add Google Webmaster to your account and start collecting data to identify how you can improve your SEO performance.

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9. GroupHigh: A dedicated blogger outreach and influence management tool. This is highly recommended for larger organisations as it is able to import URLs by the thousands and provide basic blog information, SEO/traffic metrics and social networking data. GroupHigh maintains an extensive database of bloggers that includes social media data. This means you can see what topics a blog covers, but also how many Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook followers the blogger has.

Annual plan starts from around £9,000, but discounts may be negotiable.

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10. A comprehensive blogger outreach resource that enables you to find bloggers on any topic. Has a dashboard to track and manage your outreach. Includes a powerful search engine with advanced filtering, a blog discovery tool to identify more relevant blogs, a sophisticated list management tool to create all kinds of lists, a tool for analysing the influencers in your Twitter followers and a sector segmentation tool to find the details in your lists.

Monthly plans start from $79 for In-house-team to $249 for Large team. Free 14 day trial available.

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11. Keyhole: This is a social media analytics tool for monitoring posts on both Twitter and Instagram.  As well as providing metrics such as posts, impressions and reach, Keyhole also gives you share of posts, geolocation, demographics and includes an advanced influencer filtering table.

Keyhole offers a week’s sample of Twitter data for Free. Paid plans start from $129 a month for 3 concurrent trackers and up to 50,000 posts on Twitter and Instagram. The Corporate plan costs $449 a month and offers up to 10 concurrent trackers and 100,000 posts. 

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12. LinkProspector from Citation Labs: Highly recommended tool for finding outreach targets.  Powerful tool for quickly building lists of potential link targets. Very affordable and gives a quick return on your investment.

Free plan offers 1 credit (reports normally cost 1 credit) and pay as you go plan from $10 for 5 credits. Monthly plans start at $27 for Consultant and up to $97 for Enterprise.

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13. Majestic: The Majestic Marketing Search Engine is best known for the trust flow and citation flow metrics. The topical trust flow aids analysis of a site’s topical data for evaluating the semantic context of a site. Identify top ranking sites in your sector and use the trust and citation flow data, together with topical trust flow numbers, to try to create a similar profile.

Plans range from £29.99 per month for Silver Quarterly to £250 per month for Platinum.

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14. Mozz: Open Site Explorer
: Useful for gaining insights into links that point to certain pages and also has a highly regarded Keyword analysis tool.

Monthly plans start at $99 for Standard and go up to $599 for Premium.

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15. MyBlogU: A useful tool for blogs to establish new connections and backlinks. Facilitates knowledge sharing and you can choose between brainstorm, media and interview. The interview category can be used for creating interviews for you blog and for finding relevant projects to raise your profile.


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16. NinjaOutreach: This is a comprehensive research and link building solution which is designed to automate the outreach process. The tool offers a range of solutions from lead generation, finding guest posts, content promotion to link building.

Offers 14 day unlimited free trial. Plans start from $69 a month for a single user and stores up to 1,500 contacts. The small agency plan costs $129 per month for two users and stores up to 5,000 contacts. The enterprise plan is priced at $599 per month for up to 10 users and stores up to 100,000 contacts. home page

17. SearchMetrics: Enterprise SEO platform that will gather data on your website, with information about SEO visibility, backlinks and more. The graphs facility enables you to identify any algorithm issues by looking for any sudden changes in visibility. Use the keywords ranking to help identify the most relevant websites to target. The social ranking feature provides evidence of how well the social marketing is performing.

Monthly plans start from $69 for Essentials and $2,000 for Suite Business. Contact SearchMetrics for pricing for Suite Enterprise and Suite Ultimate. homepage

18. Screaming Frog:  The Screaming Frog SEO Spider allows you to quickly crawl, analyse and audit a site from an onsite SEO perspective. It’s particulary good for analysing medium to large sites, where manually checking every page would be extremely labour intensive.

The Free standard Lite version allows you to crawl up to 500 URLs at a time, but does not give you access to the configuration, saving of crawls or the custom source code feature. An individual licence is available for £99 per annum.


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19. SEMrush: A comprehensive and  popular SEO tool for checking the health of a site. As part of keyword research the tool is also used to identify which top sites rank for primary keywords.

Monthly plans range from $69.95 for Pro to $549.95 for the Business plan.

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20. Serpfox: A useful keyword position tracking tool. Set custom alerts and receive emails to inform you whenever a search term you are tracking enters the top ten positions, exits the top ten or changes by more than ten positions.

Monthly plans range from $10 for Starter and go up to $200 for Agency.


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21. Skyrocket.Digital Similar Content Tool: A Free content promotion tool that helps you find authoritative and relevant websites that have linked to comparable content. This is a great prospecting tool as it allows you to target high-quality link prospects who have shared and linked to a comparable or related piece of content.

Simply enter relevant keywords for your content. The tool will then list prospects that already link to the top ranking content on those terms. You can export prospects to your outreach tool or add them to a spreadsheet.  Then you are ready to start your outreach campaign and earning links for your content.

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For a more comprehensive post on the latest software check out 51 best link building tools and software in 2017.

Thank you for reading my post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.


You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.


  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

Card Sorting Tools To Improve Information Architecture

What is Card Sorting?

Updated 3rd September 2017

Online card sorting  is a usability tool that  helps categorise your webpages by identifying how visitors would expect to find content or functionality. Online card sorting is a quick and simple way of evaluating  your information architecture, workflow, menu structure or user navigation journeys. Card sorting  tools ask users to organise topics into categories and may involve them naming these groups.

Card sorting is sometimes used after a tree testing (or reverse card-sorting)  exercise identifies  findability problems with current navigation journeys. Tree testing  evaluates how easy it is to find an item by getting participants to solely use the website’s navigation (i.e. without any use of internal search or other navigation aids) to complete a set task. Card sorting using online solutions allows you to  quickly identify how customers group topics together.

How Does Online Card Sorting Work? 

The card sorting online provider will recruit a sample of people who are roughly representative of your target audience or customer base. Participants are then asked to organise topics into categories that they feel make sense. They may also be asked to label these groups to ensure the words you use are what users would expect.

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Benefits of Card Sorting Online:

Online card sorting tools allow you to understand your user’s expectations and their comprehension of your topics. Further, when we discuss our websites internally we often unconsciously use jargon and words that are not generally used outside our organisations to describe aspects of our websites. Knowing how people groups and describe topics can help you:

  • Organise the structure of your website
  • Inform what content to put on your homepage
  • Label categories and navigation
  • Identify how different groups of users view and organise  the same topics

Limitations of Online Card Sorting:

It does not make allowance for users’ tasks. Card sorting is a content-centric process and if used without considering users’ tasks it can lead to an information structure that is not usable when dealing with real tasks. Make sure you evaluate the output from a card sorting exercise by discussing the potential impact on key user tasks.

It can be superficial as participants may not fully consider what the content is about or how they would use it to complete a task. Card sorting results may also vary widely between participants or they may be fairly consistent. Ensure you don’t rely on too small a sample of users to reduce the risk of a few participants overly influencing your results.

Card sorting online tools should be used to inform your decision making and be viewed alongside other research and usability testing to ensure it is used appropriately. For example you might want to consider tree testing (reverse card sorting) to evaluate the findability of items in your navigation structure to validate your card sorting findings.

Like any research technique card sorting tools cannot tell you exactly how users will respond on a live website . For this reason  it is wise to consider A/B testing any major navigation changes first if they risk having an impact on key success metrics.


Open and Closed Card Sorting:

Open card sorting involves participants being asked to organise topics into groups that make sense to them and then give a name to each of these groups that best describes its content. This is great for understanding how users’ group content and the terms or labels they apply to each category.

Closed card sorting is where users are asked to sort topics using pre-defined categories. This is normally used once you have clearly defined your main navigation or content categories and need to understand how users organise content items into each category.

Often organisations use a combination of the two methods to firstly identify content categories and then to validate how well the category labels work in a closed card sort.

Below I have summarised 7 of the top online (remote) card sorting tools and 4 software solutions for using off-line.

Online Card Sorting Tools:

Online card sorting solutions allow for remote user testing so that you can save on the cost of a lab and it allows participants to conduct the test in the safety of their natural browsing environment.

Remote user testing can also be incredibly quick as participants can be recruited online and asked to complete the study almost immediately.

Here are seven online card sorting tools summarised for you to consider. An additional four offline cards sorting solutions are summarised below the online tools.

1. Optimal Workshop: Discover how real people think your content should be organised and obtain user insights to make informed decisions about information architecture. Priced at start from $109 per month, $149 per survey or $990 for an annual subscription.



2. Provenbyusers: A new online card sorting solution that is in Beta and is currently free for users to try it out. Add or import your cards, add a survey and test your card sort before you launch the exercise. Email your participants a unique URL and you can view results immediately. The UI allows you to analyse data using industry standard tables or download your data to analyse as you wish.

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3. SimpleCardSort: Online card sorting with the ability to turn on subgroups to capture multiple levels of card placement. This PRO feature allows users to drag one grouping of cards into another grouping. An additional PRO feature offers participant replay which logs every decision made by users and logs each time they sort a card, create a new group or rename an existing group.

Free demo-account allows you to try out the service with a simple card sort. A Basic subscription starts at $49 for 30 days or $99 for the Pro 30 day plan.

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4. usabilitiTEST: Online card sorting tool that supports closed, open and hybrid testing. Offers a no-obligation Free 3-day trial with all features available for your evaluation. Provides a Prioritization Matrix tool that helps rank tasks by a frequency and importance criteria. This can help identify which issues are of most importance and give priority to resolve first.

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5. Usability Sciences:  A full-service supplier of usability research, Usability Sciences has been established for over 25 years and will design, manage and analyse the result of your card sorting research for you. They offer both open and closed card-sorting solutions for you.

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6. Usability Tools: Card sorting is just one of the tools in their impressive UX suite. Supports open and closed card-sorts, and randomisation of cards and categories. Offers a 14 day Free trial and you can obtain a price quote by submitting your details using a short form.


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7. UserZoom: Offers clients a full usability suite, including web-based card sorting. Supports up to 100  items and 12 categories. Supports open and closed card-sorts, randomisation of questions to reduce participant bias, and follows a responsive design so participants can take studies on either their desktop or iPad. Using an iPad makes the process more of an intuitive experience by harnessing the power of touch-screen technology.

UserZoom is Ideal if you are a large organisation looking for a comprehensive usability testing programme, including information architecture/UX design, benchmarking and market research. For businesses subscriptions start from $19,000 a year.

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Off-Line Card Sorting Tools:

If you prefer to conduct card sorting offline with users you have recruited locally there are a number of free software solutions available to use. Summarised below are four free card sorting software tools you can use.

8. UXSORT:  This is a free open-sourced card sorting software that you can download onto a computer running Windows (Windows 7 is preferred). It allows you to import a list of cards using Word or Excel and the software enables you to sort up to 1,000 cards. Users click and drag cards into pre-set categories and you can view results using real-time reporting.

Data can be exported and merged, with each participant’s data presented and exported individually. The software does allow you to aggregate results and run a cluster analysis. The reporting uses a dendrogram or family tree to present results.

However, the software is not for everyone as it requires basic knowledge of SQL databases because installation includes SQL Compact. However, the site does provide a step-by-step installation guide to help you complete the process.

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9. Uzilla Mozdev: This is a free DIY card sorting tool which uses open-source Mozilla based software which is compatible with Windows, Macintosh and Linux. The software allows you to create open sorting and closed sorting projects where participants drag topic options into the category blocks. For closed sorting you can disable the feature that allows respondents to add new labels.

The software only runs in Mozella and you will need to download the UzCardSort software library. The analysis is more limited than some of the cloud-based solutions but the developers plan to release new features over time.

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10. The Web Category Analysis Tool (WebCat): This is a free open source card sorting software solution that works on Windows or Apache web servers and on Unix systems running Apache.

The software creates a Java applet that provides an interactive user experience where participants clicks and drags items from a list to one of several category bins. Labels can be moved back and forth between bins until the participant is happy with the outcome and submits their choices for analysis.

The project manager can view collected data using the integrated clustering algorithm and interactive tree. The reporting tool also includes a link to the raw data, subject by category results and a table of any verbatim comments from respondents.

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11. XSort App: This is a free card sorting tools designed for Macintosh. The tool offers both open and closed sorting, plus a combination of the two. The software simulates a table with cards on it so that participants can click and drop cards into the relevant category. It also allows respondents to create sub-categories if needed which can be useful for developing drop down menus.

The reporting functionality allows you to view results in real-time and export data if required. The developers plan a web-based version of the software to allow participants to respond to studies without having to be on a Macintosh.

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Many of these online card sorting tools offer a free trial or demo so don’t let cost put you off trying out card sorting to improve your information architecture. This is such important element of the user experience don’t leave it all to chance. Get some input from real users. You should also seriously consider using tree testing to validate card sorting results and evaluate the findability of categories or products on your site.

Thank you for reading my post. I hope you found this post useful and if you did please share using the social media links on this page.


You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.  I also have a glossary of over 100 conversion marketing terms.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as,,, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.

6 Myths About Website Optimization That Must Die

 Misconceptions About Website Optimization:


Website optimization is a test and learn process. If we restrict our ability to learn by listening to commonly held misconceptions about website design and performance we risk undermining the whole optimization process. These myths must die!

1. It’s about improving the customer experience.

Why are people so obsessed with improving the customer experience?

It is certainly desirable for the user experience to meet certain standards (e.g. relevance, clarity, loadspeed, accessibility etc), as otherwise this could harm conversion. But it should not be an isolated goal though, there has to be a return on investment as there is always an opportunity cost for any expenditure.

We could all create a fantastic user experience by giving free access to everything on our site or reducing prices below the market rate. But unless this provides a net-gain to the organisation we could quickly go out of business.


Disney understand this and invest in creating a compelling customer experience because they know it allows them to charge more than your average theme park and people will return for more of the same. On a website we have the advantage that we can precisely measure the ROI though A/B and multivariate testing. Use these tools to ensure that money spent on improving your website has a positive and sustainable impact on important business goals.  Otherwise use the money for something else that generates a positive return.


2. Conversion is about good design.

What defines a ‘good’ webpage design is all too often based upon the subjective opinions of people within an organisation rather than the behaviour of visitors. People visit a website because they perceive that it can assist them in achieving a current goal, whether it is your content or the products/services sold. If your design doesn’t assist with this process then it won’t matter whether it is a flat or simple/minimal style because customers won’t return.

Design is definitely important as it helps to create a good first impression, and it ensures content and navigation are presented in a way that is clear and engaging to visitors. But design is an enabler to facilitate the user journey, and ultimately if a beautifully designed page does not help and encourage visitors to complete a key task of some kind it has failed.

Data should determine if a design is up to standard and not the subjective opinions of managers and designers. As Brian Massey points out often “ugly wins” when it comes to A/B tests:

“The specifics of design change from audience to audience. Probably the only general rule, and it’s a bit of a heartbreaker, is that too often we find ugly wins when we do our split tests.” Source: Brian Massey Shares insights on landing pages designed to convert


3. Consistency of design is crucial. 

How many times a day do you hear “consistency” given as the reason for why an element on your website looks like it does or why it even exists on a webpage? This is not an answer, it’s an automatic response that hides a lack of thought and is often due to lazy thinking or design.

Sure, if it is to align with a web convention this helps to meet
customer expectations and assists navigation or understanding it may be relevant. But, do you really think your visitors are bothered if your call to action button on one page is a different size or colour to what it is on another page? Do you think they even notice if your website is engaging and has compelling content? I think not.

Your visitor is trying to complete a task and that should be
your priority, not that everything is consistent.  If consistency is relevant and helps the customer meet their goal then great, but not if it is solely for your gratification and doesn’t assist the customer achieve their goal. Consistency for its own sake should not be a goal and should be challenged unless you have evidence that it is beneficial to both your customer and your organisation.

4. Brand guidelines must be adhered to.

This is like saying that you won’t use oxygen to breathe underwater if you think the colour of your tank clashes with your swimming gear. If we follow this rule we are basically saying that brand guidelines are more important than the organisation’s goals (e.g. revenue generation). This is not a healthy place to be in and it could contribute to the failure of the business.

Brand guidelines should be ‘guidelines’ and not set in stone. They are often based upon subjective opinions and may have little evidence to support them. Like any aspect of a business they need to have a return on investment (ROI) and if that ROI is not proven it needs to be challenged and if necessary changed. Otherwise the business and the brand will not evolve in response to changing customer needs.

5. Use tips and best practice. 

If it was this simple we would all just follow Amazon. Websites are unique ecosystems that attract their own set visitors who do not behave in a generic and predictable way.

Where you don’t have the traffic to test on a website you may have to implement changes that you have tested on another site. However, don’t assume it will necessarily work. Make sure you have appropriate KPI monitoring in place just in case it doesn’t go according to plan.

Similarly, tips about conversion rate optimization may give you ideas for making improvements, but again test them before you implement to ensure they work on your website.  The key to any successful website optimisation strategy is that you follow a systematic and proven process to identity and develop tests that have a high chance of making a significant impact on your business KPIs.

Following tips and best practice alone will just lead to a random testing programme that lacks focus and will probably fail to deliver consistent and sustainable results.


6. It’s all about the conversion rate:

Your key conversion metric is just one indicator of many that shows how your site is performing. It should not be viewed in isolation
from other KPIs, such as average order value, returning customer orders, or overall revenues. Any improvement in your conversion rate needs to be sustainable and provide an overall net gain to your business as otherwise it is meaningless. You should never rely on a single metric to measure success as websites are complex systems with many dependencies.

If Website optimization was all about the conversion rate we would all use dark user design patterns to trick visitors into making decisions that may not be in their best interest. Having worked in Gibraltar for a year I frequently had to book flights though Ryanair’s website. Their website employs such practices but it didn’t make me want to use them again if I had any choice.  Such practices are
counter productive in the long-run and can damage your brand’s reputation.

The Ryanair website’s travel insurance section is probably the worst culprit of this approach. This states that “If you wish to purchase travel insurance please select your country of residence”. Ok, so why is travel insurance in the country of residence drop-down menu? Below the list of passengers there is a further instruction; “If
you do not wish to purchase travel insurance, please select ‘Don’t insure me’ in the drop-down box.”



Ok, but the “Don’t insure me” is not at the top of the list of options because that would be too easy.  Nope, it’s between “Denmark”
and “Finland”. You also have to select this separately for each passenger because it is under country of residence. This is not an enjoyable experience and ironically it probably makes you more alert for any other money-making tactics that Ryanair might

So don’t get obsessed with your conversion rate. See it as one of many important indicators of your site’s health. Ensure you don’t trade off short-term gains for damaging the long-term sustainability of your site.


Thank you for reading my post. If you found it of interest please share this post by clicking on the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

Recommended reading: You Should Test That! by Chris Goward.


  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.