Sunday, 11 March 2018

When SEO meets the MVP process on Bashfully

This is part of a series about my side project Bashfully, which aims to give graduates and other new entrants to careers a seasoned professional level way of expressing themselves through the super power of story telling. Following the core principles of being discoverable, personalised and guiding in approach.

So after getting the SEO infrastructure sorted out we are back into an experiment and observe phase. 

LinkedIn on Google
 LinkedIn is the yard stick that we need to beat. The features that we are honing in on based on the MVP process are discoverability, customisation, and guidance. These allow us to add value as a David fighting the awesome network effect of the LinkedIn's Goliath. As an example to the left is a search result for me going to my LinkedIn profile. There are a couple of points that I like - my name, job title, location, and current employer are all easy to read. The thing that I don't like is that the description is very impersonal. Is the fact that I have had 7 roles really the most interesting thing about me? Or is it doing more to tell LinkedIn's story? Is this their SEO not mine?

I'm not just picking on LinkedIn here, it is the best out of the other profiles that I have. AngelList, GitHub, and Flickr are all very fact-and-figures based. 

Bashfully on Google
Now a look at the Bashfully results. Taking the LinkedIn good points, this needs the current role. But I think that we have done a good job in the content organisation and meta data to put the story front and center. This puts something of my story and aspirations right there. With my current role and employer I think it will round it off nicely.

One of the problems in testing this is that Google is very much a black box. You can't tell them how to display things, you have to give them hints and hope that they take them. It's actually very much like being a Product Manager, working with influence and not direct authority.

The main thing that we started testing this week was the rich data structure to help pull together a profile owner's digital footprint. Unfortunately, the Google Search Console doesn't report on the rich data for people or organisations. There is a "jobs" type but it has required fields that we don't, or want, the data for.

The lesson to learn from this is to get the basics right. Structure your pages so that Google picks out important content. Then use CSS to visually represent this to your uses. Next you can build on hinting to Google and crafting search result snippets.

Other search engines

So far we have been very Google focused, and had some success. Now it's time to move onto other engines. We are starting with Bing and DuckDuckGo (which uses Bing as part of its ranking/indexing system). Bing actually has quite a nicer result for LinkedIn than Google. They support a similar range of markup that we already have on the site, including Open Graph and

Bing example search result

On the other hand DuckDuckGo has security as its main feature, so the results are rather sparse. It is a nice touch to put the sites logo alongside the URL though.
DuckDuckGo example search result
Edit: As a minor success after registering with Bing webmaster tools, I have managed to get Bashfully to appear on the first page for some key search terms! This is mainly seems to be down to the OpenGraph data and structure/content being relevant ... but not the individual profile pages yet

Further reading

Sunday, 4 March 2018

What I've been reading w/c 26/02/2018 Innovation and Product Culture

Great look here at Product Analytics. Think I use about 5 tools altogether, and even with Google Analytics, I layer other tools on top to help make the data usable Life Beyond Google Analytics: Pick the Best Tools for the Job

Thinking about product culture started with the start of a new series on Medium from FutureLearn - Using agile principles to develop company culture Part 1: Introduction and it promises to be a great look at how a successful organisation in delivery can live the values of the agile manifesto. It was then a short step to Stop Blaming, Start Innovating a great article that teaches us that Innovation, like charity, begins at home. Thoughtworks have a similar take and say that 

"Innovation is the key to unlocking a best practice culture" Thoughtworks, 2017

Next up were two posts that cover more of the nuts and bolts of Product Management work. The first was a round of top tips on How to become a great Product Manager, according to 16 of them. The next was  The Problem With Being a Fix-It Product Manager really resonated with me. Sometimes you just need to treat your career like a product, make sure its purpose is clearly defined and focused. Not just for your own sake, but to ensure that the product culture around you works and isn't just making up for organisational gaps.

Thorbjørn Sigberg writes in A funny story about projects

The only funny thing about projects, is that they tend to go horribly wrong in ways nobody anticipated.
and weaves an anecdote about large scale IT projects with infrastructure projects as he sits on a delayed train. I've certainly been on a few projects that match that! (as well as a few were it was obvious at the outset). The lesson I take from this is to keep outcomes and decision making as closely together as possible, these allows change to the things that nobody anticipates. So that's projects ... what about innovationWhy do Innovations fail? Not as big a takeaway here, but similar theme in too much bureaucracy and getting to the job to be done, to help the maximum number of people win with your product.

Can’t believe I missed National Storytelling Week earlier in the year! Interesting findings in Britain's Biggest Companies Fail to Tell Their Stories Clearly that neither CEO reports or “About Us” pages have much emotional language. Missing a trick to form a connection on a human level. When you consider Stephen Shapiro's advice

they are missing out on a massive opportunity to be part of what drives buying behaviour. So, are missing out on getting to the job to be done and being part of the users journey.

And finally, this week saw the start of a new section on the 15below blog the "15below Tech Take". Here is a piece where I look at Blockchain and #TravelTech. There is much more to it than currencies! so much going on in this space at the moment, the next big thing for passenger communications?

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Venturing into the world of SEO

It has been a bit of a voyage into the unexpected in looking at SEO this month. For my side project Bashfully, which is to create an online profile for people early in their careers that has three guiding principles. That it should be:

  1. Discoverable - people need to be able to find the person based on their skills, experience, and aspirations.
  2. Personalised - the skills and experience need to have the ability to be tailored for specific job applications.
  3. Guiding - given the above, give enough structure that allows the profile builder to tell their story in the best way possible. Also a longer term goal here is to provide feedback based on other profiles that match their aspirations.
The features that we develop tend to rotate around each of these goals to keep the product balanced. We hadn't done much in the discoverable area, apart from setting meta data required for creating the cards used in sharing to Facebook or Twitter. Since this came up in our user research we needed to start improving. So, that's the why, now on to the how.

Google Search Console

The first step was looking at the search terms used to reach the site in Google Analytics. Looking for custom reports to help dig into the data, I learned about Google Search Console. This required some extra setup, with linking to Analytics being enough to "prove ownership". The Google Search Console appears to going through an update at the moment. The new design doesn't yet cover all the functionality.

Looking at the data there it was a bit bare. Not many pages were indexed, so therefore not showing up in results. Under the "Crawl" menu was a setting for sitemaps. I knew that Bashfully did not have a sitemap yet, so that was my first stop. 


I wasn't entirely sure what format the sitemap needed to be in. So I went to free site map This is not the most beautiful site that I have ever encountered. But it did generate an XML sitemap for me. A little bit of tidying up I put it in the root of the site. One extra little step was to add the path to the sitemap in robots.txt

Digging into results

Once the new sitemap was up and running I went to "Crawl" > "Sitemaps" to get an index started. Within a couple of days we started seeing the clicks that were showing up as hits in Google Analytics. However the whole experience isn't as obvious as say Google Analytics. Which is why SEO tools that take the Google Search Console data exist. is one such tool. Once you give their user permission to access your search data then you get three options to guide you:

  1. ...get some new content ideas
  2. ...find striking distance keywords
  3. ...improve the CTR of a page

I found this really helpful. Especially the "striking distance keywords", this helps find words that are on the second page of results. I only got the chance to put one small text change through and view the results before the free trial ran out, but I did see more varied search terms match with the site.

Our main approach here has been to make small changes where we can measure the results and probe to learn more. We don't have any SEO experience between us, so doing large changes would not be a great use of time ... and just as likely to make things worse.

Other considerations

Speed that pages get served up is now part of the Google ranking. This is alongside the other changes to nudge sites to be mobile friendly. SanityCheck also allows you to setup speed checks on specific pages and caught a page slowing down in the desktop version - but strangely not in the mobile test. It is strange to think that websites wouldn't be responsive these days.

Appearance of the results. This was a bit more of a rabbit hole! Rather naively I thought that  Google might use the Open Graph meta data that Twitter and Facebook use for enriching links. But no, they use Structured Data. This is really useful in emails for events etc and as it turns out giving hints on how to display search results.

As you can see from the example above it does duplicate the data already there, but it does have some key features that we are interested in. One of the top requested problems to solve in our user research was being optimised for SEO. These structured data and the "Person" type gives us the best way to give Google the hints it needs to put forward our users stories in the best possible way.

One of the frustrating aspects of structured data is that is only supports a subset of the full spec. So there was a bit of trial and error to see which other properties Google supported above the few mentioned explicitly in their intro site.

Further reading

Sunday, 11 February 2018

We need to talk about Alexa: Common use devices in a personal world

Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash
This week I'm going to reflect on a year and bit of using two voice assistants - Alexa and Siri. Although much the same would apply to Google Home. I must start by saying I love Alexa and the echo dot. She does just enough and is unobtrusive enough in my life that I'm not a slave to her ... in the same way as a smartphone.

Last month I wrote about one aspect that "we" have not looked into enough - privacy. 

“I think it will make for a perfect alarm clock”  Trusted Reviews - Amazon Echo Spot
Here it looks like part of the problem with technology is the uncritical approach of what could go wrong, in building and selling. There is no mention of privacy concerns apart from throw away comment about a "mute" feature. As well as the obvious issue of an internet connect camera in our bedrooms. I have been thinking about other issues related to a mindset used to personal in more common use areas. So I have done some digging into people's opinions of the challenges technologists need to solve.

What voice assistants give us

But before I start looking at that, here are some of the good things these products give us:

  • Timers when we have our hands full, great for cooking!
  • "Routines" on Alexa can be used to create really personal alarm clocks - surprised smartphones haven't had these for years
  • Control over music

This is what we are trading for the areas of concern below. With 17% feeling that nothing needed changing, and a further 8% wanting more access to these assistants on the move! Which could be done to where people are in their stage of life? And what they perceive that they have to lose. One of the qualitative responses that I received suggested this could be a factor:
"I'm at that age were I'm not particularly bothered. In fact, I'm probably boring them rigid with my timers, alarms and reminders." Mark on Ipsos i-Say


Two quotes that sum up the responses of the 41% people worried about privacy I got were:
"It’s a government listening device" Ben via Facebook
"... just like all the new 'smart' products like TVs, Meters, fridges etc they all made for spying on us 👎🏽😣" veganpanda on ipsos i-Say

How else is privacy affected in these areas? Well, since Alexa has added messaging anyone (including 6 year old nephews!) can get access to messages meant for specific people. This weekend I have noticed this when Alexa couldn't understand a command. She fell back onto checking the messages.

This is wild speculation, but I imagine the main use case used in tested against is adults. Either in a close relationship living together or single people home alone. 

The other thing to think about is that you don't always know Alexa is there - is she in that speaker? Or maybe that lamp? We are moving towards a connect world. Are you happy with the privacy considerations as they are?


To sum up the 34% of respondents who voted for security:
"There are too many risks the devices can be hacked" - Marmum63 on ipsos i-Say

This is very like the above two cases. Most people I know disabled the voice ordering shopping option as soon as the devices are setup. Since the first thing most people do the first time they visit someone with an Echo is to order something bizarre.

The other aspect is that you are giving one, maybe two or more corporations access to you home. Constantly listening (and maybe watching). With very sensitive microphones connected to the internet - what could go wrong?

Lots of people - me included - find this technology really cool. And the companies that make them are in relatively liberal democracies where the rule of law is valued. But what if that isn't the case in the future? What about these devices being used in countries that already look to control the population with technology?

The family experience

One of the interesting quotes on its suitability came from Facebook:
"I wrote a skill called School Run to help make sure everything gets done. Was planning on entering a competition. But we tried it and it was a hideous experience for the whole family. I think voice tech has a place but maybe not in the home. " Neil (another one!) on Facebook
and another on the downside of giving digital assistants human personas
"We changed ours to respond to 'computer' because I didn't like the way it made it fell like having a servant called Alexa." Helen on Facebook

Another issue with the common use aspect, which I've experienced, are recommendations. They work brilliantly when you log into a website on a device that you control to use the way that you want. But if I use my wife's Echo connected to her Spotify to play songs that only I like. Then it starts to devalue those recommendations to her. Likewise with YouTube on the Firestick. I use it to watch music videos or travel industry related conference feeds. Yet because one of my nephews likes Peppa Pig I get many more recommendations based on that!


I remain cautiously optimistic about the promise of smart assistants and breaking free of screens and keyboards. But it is still very early days. It feels like we are in the era of PC voice dictation software. Or the early internet enabled phones that used Java apps and WAP pages. That's to say the current crop of voice assistants, which don't need training to understand you, and capabilities of native apps on smartphone now are an order of magnitude better. 

What it took to get here was to create new ways of thinking and working with products suited to these devices. Not to copy from the desktop paradigms and local processing. The voice processing for Alexa benefits from having vast amounts of data in the cloud. alongside a feedback mechanism from the users that makes my copy of Dragon Dictate in 2000 look like a toy.

We are still very much find our way as an industry in the privacy and ethical challenges that common use devices over personal ones provide. We need another leap in technology to detect who not only what is being said. If we solve these then we will have a brilliant benefit for easing the friction of using technology. For example, checking flight information in a natural way. 

Further Reading

A one question poll hosted on ipsos i-say. This surveyed UK adults in as close a random sample as I could get. I chose this over a Twitter poll due that more varied sample as my followers have a heavy industry bias - UX people, Product Managers, and developers. At time of writing this received 425 responses. The question posed was:

What worries you about voice assistants? (e.g. Alexa, Google Home, Siri, or Cortana)

With the description:
With everything seemingly getting voice assistants from lamps to speakers, what worries you the most about having all these devices listening and watching us in our homes?

With apologies to HBX's Professor Janice Hammond on the question design! I took a decision for an opinionated question based on my review of mainstream reviews of these devices. I hoped that this would lead to thinking more about the downsides. It had the following options as responses:

  1. Privacy
  2. Security
  3. Nothing, I'd even like to take it on the road!
  4. Nothing Happy with the way things work now
  5. (the ability to add another response)
For more qualitative replies I also posted on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter:

Anybody got some good stories about Alexa or Google home type voice assistants? Things you didn’t expect it to do? Ways children have confused it? Or it has affected recommendations from other services that you use? Worries about privacy?

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Second set of learning from the Bashfully MVP process

I was going to write about SEO and Bashfully, but is usual on software projects other things cropped up. In tandem with my day job I have mainly been thinking about maintaining delivery momentum.One of the downsides of small projects teams is the lack of capacity and time. However, the upside is focus and alignment. We manage this by:

  • Keeping a Small backlog, we're open to opportunity but don't fill a backlog for the sake of it. Each completed feature is usually an avenue to learn and build.
  • Referring to the vision and remembering YAGNI, there have been times that we have rejected ideas as they aren't core to what we are trying to achieve. And others that just aren't right yet (which we immediately discard, no clogging up the backlog!)
  • Talking before starting dev, really simple but not relying on story formats or mock-ups. We talk through what we are trying to achieve and what success looks like.
That's the good things that I have learned in this phase. The bad things come down to prioritisation and what we knew at the time. With hindsight I would have been tempted to tack on-boarding and tailoring profiles differently. But it is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. You need compelling features to get people to sign up, yet you need users to provide feedback.

After we had profile tailoring (what we are calling "lenses") I set up a limited Twitter campaign. This did increase the engagement and got us some potential users, but from the analytics I could see a drop off during the setup process. One of the factors behind not prioritising this earlier was that user research had shown wanting to do something with LinkedIn data (others were asked for, but LinkedIn was far and away the winner).

Worth bearing in mind that no matter how you ask it, people aren't going to give useful answers to setup questions. You just have to make it as easy as possible to get in. The approach we have taken now is to get the bare minimum and then allow a full profile to be built up at leisure. Also no matter how easy you think you've already made it, go one step further!

Which brings me onto the Tweet that wins this week...

Further reading

Friday, 2 February 2018

MEETUP: Developers: What do you expect from your Product Managers? at ProductTank Brighton

My week has been book-ended by Meetups! To finish off was the ProductTank Brighton session looking at what developers need from product people and how changes impact them.

Dorothy Wingrove kicked off the evening with a lightning talk on 'How to Build a World-Class Rock Paper Scissors Bot'. Dorothy went through the concepts needed to build a bot to play the well known game. As she showed the very simple code needed to execute each strategy - each on one slide - and going to meta-strategies she showed how very complex and adaptive behaviour can be built. This was the best illustration of the impact of "just one small change" I have seen. With each change having a knock on effect needing a further change. I'd recommend anyone responsible for managing the software development process who doesn't have a technical background to see this talk if you get the chance! (thanks to Craig for booking her in)

Next was the "main event" of the evening a panel discussion to find out what your development team most wants from you (if you are a product person). In the questioning and moderation chair was James Mayes, Co-Founder and CEO of Mind the Product.

The panel represented some successful development businesses in Brighton:

  • Eilidh Hendry - Full Stack Developer at TrustedHousesitters
  • Danielle Vautier - UX Developer at ProdPad
  • Martyn Osborne - Technical lead on the Product team at 15below
  • Daniel Pickford - Head of Development at 15gifts
As you may be able to tell from the job titles the panel had a diverse range of experience, and therefor opinions on what they wanted. Taking from the answers is was clear that a useful bit of feedback was to approach people as individuals and find out what works for them. I've had the pleasure of knowing both Dan and Martyn since they were at 15below as placement students. So seeing them on the panel talking about building successful products made me feel proud to know them.

I'm also a keen user of ProdPad and love the idea behind TrustedHousesitters, so hearing the developer side of the experience it was interesting to note how they work comes through in the end product and brand.

Another subject that got close to consensus was the need for a delivery cadence being more important that sprints or deadlines. Although the panel also agreed that no deadline at all risked gold plating things (i.e. letting perfect be the enemy of good). Given how closely I work with Martyn, I am glad that he has seen the benefit of how I have tried to organise our product work! (sometimes real life does interfere with plans though ;-))

A great night out, with interesting talks and nice pizza provided by evening's sponsor - American Express. Also love the venue 68 Middle Street.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

MEETUP: "Gutenberg and Security Talks" at WordUp Brighton

Last night I attended the first WordUp Brighton event of 2018. Tammie Lister talked about the new WordPress editor, Gutenberg, and Dave Potter gave a talk on security. This was outside of my usual bubble as I'm making more of an effort in 2018 to explore the local "tech scene" outside of day-to-day concerns.

Dave started off with a great look at "security". This wasn't the talk I was expecting from the title but brilliant. I had initially thought it would be about things like hacking, but it was more to do with the security of business processes. So important things like back-up and retention strategies, which introduced the hot topic of GDPR! How hosting impacts those. Also other things to look out for in hosting that can impact your business continuity, like what do hosts do when they see network spikes ... will they just take down your instance or a whole server?

Tammie then did an intro to a new WordPress editor from Project Gutenburg. This looks like it will greatly improve the editing experience and make it more like the end result. She then bravely did live demos! Including adding a WordPress plugin and then using the output saved "block" in a new post. Overall I was very impressed by the new experience, as I know how much of a pain WYSIWYG editors can be. I also thought that the little nudges for accessibility were a step in the right direction, for example warning when text contrast is below a certain level.

One thing that I was surprised about was that my previous experience using Zope and Plone earlier in my career. I have done lots of things since then, but the memories of  setting up content and structuring it came flooding back. After the talks a lot of the conversations that I eavesdropped used words like "Information architecture" and "taxonomy". But they also linked that to very real world concerns around how change impacts users, how to manage deprecation in contexts where changes are very infrequent. 

When SEO meets the MVP process on Bashfully

This is part of a series about my side project Bashfully , which aims to give graduates and other new entrants to careers a seasoned profes...