A Google A/B test for Adwords adverts

Yesterday I noticed when I was searching in Google using a Chrome ‘incognito’ window I was seeing a different version of Google’s search results than normal. Here’s what I was seeing in the incognito window:

New 'Ads' next to Adwords adverts

And for reference, here’s what I’d normally see at the moment:


The difference is the Adwords block of adverts above the search results had a white background rather than the yellow they’ve shown for many years, and each advert at the top is noted with an ‘Ad’ label on a dark yellow background. The adverts on the side also have this more noticeable label above them, where the subtle, grey on white label currently sits.

This is what’s known as an ‘A/B’ test – Google are showing me (or the one version of me represented by that web browser) a different version of their results page and seeing how I react to it. They’ll do this to thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands of people, then statistically judge which of the layouts is best, under whatever criteria they have set – understanding for the person seeing them, amount of people who click on the adverts, or anything you can record.

Does this mean we’re going to see a change in the search results soon? Well… maybe. Google are well known for testing potential changes before they go live, but most are subtle enough that you don’t notice them.

They have received criticism in the past because apparently a large percentage of searchers do not notice the yellow background to the adverts above the main results, and therefore don’t realise they are paid adverts and not part of the ‘natural’, unpaid for results. Perhaps this label next to each advert is a way for Google to ensure people do realise what each of the adverts above the main results are – paid placements.

I think this could be a good change if it is indeed true that people do not realise they are adverts. I also prefer the way the ‘sitelinks’ under the the adverts work – they’re the extra links under the top advert in the upper screenshot of the new layout, under the second advert in the lower screenshot.

Only time will tell if there is enough response to this for Google to decide to roll it out to everyone. Today, I don’t see it in any of my browsers. Such is the constant change that goes on behind most of the big sites we visit every day, most of which we never even notice.

My first Stripe integration, using PHP

Recently I carried out my first integration to the new (to the UK) payment processing provider Stripe. My client Jasper Goodall was looking at moving to Paypal for taking payments and having integrated with Paypal in the past, I suggested Stripe as a more developer and client friendly alternative. He liked the look of Stripe and signed up.

I was moving the site from using Sagepay over to Stripe and as all the basket and post-payment logic was written, dropping in Stripe was very straightforward. Their documentation is very clear, testing is simple, and taking a payment is a doddle. I hit a few minor issues, which were:

PHP needs ‘mbstring’ turned on

My local PHP 5.2.4 install didn’t have mbstring on by default, so I had to install it. This was on my Windows PC so I had to move the mbstring DLL in to the main ‘php’ directory and edit the httpd.conf file to include the DLL as one that needed to be loaded. I then restarted Apache and it was working fine.

My host did have mbstring turned on, so I didn’t need to change anything there.

Secure certificate required

My client didn’t have a certificate to allow his to use SSL. However his host, Claranet, had a shared secure area that all of their customers could use without requiring their own certificate. This was good, but I had to re-code parts of his site so things like the stylesheets would load properly when using this area.

If you or your client are on shared hosting with one of the larger providers, it’s worth checking to see if they have a secure area you can use before investing in your own certificate. This can save you some money, but has the disadvantage that the URL of your secure pages won’t show your domain in that part of the website address, which may make some customers suspicious. It will be worth adding some text to your pages explaining how they are secured if you think that is going to be a problem.

Coding up receipts

Previously, we were using Sagepay which takes various information about the products in the customer’s basket and builds an e-mail notification of the sale for you. Stripe just take the amount of money you are charging, so I had to update the website to create a notification for the customer, and one to tell the client a sale had been made. These were very simple additions to the post-sale process.

Overall, Stripe was a delight to integrate with. I’ve set up shops using several payment gateways – Sagepay (was Protx), Worldpay, Secure Trading, Paypal, and Paypoint. Stripe was by far the easiest, taking only a few hours to integrate with including the bug fixing of my setup and the re-coding of the existing shop to send the right information through and use the extra secure area of their hosting. If you were starting from a cleaner base, you’d probably be looking at an hour or two including reading the documentation. Really nice.

I am giving (and listening to) a Freelancing talk on Tues 24th

On Tuesday 24th September I’ll be talking about Freelancing at the ‘Achieving Freelancing Awesomeness‘ evening hosted by Freelance Advisor in Hove, along with Kati Byrne and Bex White.

I’ll be talking about making friends with other freelancers to help you get more work in, Bex is talking about managing your time effectively so you can grow your business, and Kati about using social media as a freelancer. There will also be lots of time for questions and answers about the talk and anything to do with freelancing.

I’m very much looking forward to the event and hearing the other talks. If you’re interested you can find out more on Freelance Advisor, or go straight to sign up here.

The event is from 6pm-8pm at Freelance Advisor / Crunch’s office, which is in the ‘Perfumery’ building next to Hove station so it’s a doodle to get to – either train to Hove, or if you’re in Brighton and don’t want to walk it, the number 7 and 7A buses go to Hove station, you’ll need to cross over the tracks to get to the right building.

There are quite a few people registered already, so if you’re interested please get a ticket now.

Latest client project: Grafton Banks Finance re-build

Over the last few weeks I’ve been re-building the Grafton Banks Finance recruitment website. I’ve been working with them for many years, maintaining and extending the previous version of the site, which was frankly long in the tooth from their beginnings, being based on another site from within the same group.

Screenshot of Grafton Banks FinanceThe graphical side was adroitly handled by Nick Carter, and as ever he came up with the goods – a great looking site the client is happy represents them properly. The team at GBF were nervous about being able to work with Nick as this is outside their field of expertise, but he did a great job in guiding them through what they needed to think about, and then interpreting their brief.

I handled the front-end build and integration with their existing back-end PHP system, with some updates to help their business grow, including the addition of a much needed jobs by e-mail facility. Some of the front-end Javascript work saw me struggle with finding jQuery plugins and getting scripts to inter-operate. I’m very glad I signed up for a Javascript course earlier this year, and will be happy when I’ve got my head around the language in more depth so I hit less problems in this area in the future.

Screenshot of Grafton Banks Finance on an iPhoneThe site has a mobile-friendly version via Media Queries within the CSS controlling the layout of the site. It is not a fully ‘responsive design’ which would cope with all sizes of screen due to time constraints, the mobile version targets iPhone’s specifically, but also looks fine on my lower-end Android handset after an extra screen tap. This is another area I need to improve on, the conversion process only had some small hiccups and some friends in the Farm were happy to point me in the right direction to fix things, but I could have avoided the problems I was having with more experience. Some conversions of my own sites will give me some much needed practice in these areas.

Although I my own process with the work on the site could have been smoother, I think the end results for their business are good. The team at Grafton Banks Finance are lovely people, and I’m happy to have been part of building them a website that reflects their company and values properly. Check out the site here.

Notes from WorthingDigital social on 29th August 2013

Last night was the first in a new ‘season’ of WorthingDigital activities, we kicked off with a general chat in the pub.

Eight people turned up, which was a fine amount to start with. On the walk back to the station, Dave suggested I make some notes on what was talked about, as I do for the Farm meetings. This is my list, which is not comprehensive but is what I could remember on the journey back. We’ll find something to do with them within the banner of WorthingDigital at some point.

Web conferences – are they worth the money?
Worthing coworking
Google+ app is a annoying
Dull conference talks
Camera hacking
Buying a mountain
Wired mag & coping with being inherently out of date
Upcoming WD talks
Free coworking day at Worthing Coworking tomorrow
Canon Hack Dev Kit for non-SLR cameras
People who really enjoy the sunshine (this is a terrible in joke for people who were there.)
What is a Personal Area Network?
Fitbit & competitive walking
LESS and complicating CSS
Is making a web page becoming too complicated?

It was a nice little meeting, reminding me of the early days of the Farm, where a group of 7-8 people would naturally split in to two groups to chat about one thing, then break up in to other groups quite easily as topics changed. Meeting with intelligent and interesting people in the same industry as yourself is always entertaining, doing it over a pint doubly so.

Mark and I have managed to book a series of tech and business talks happening every fortnight across September, October and November, followed by another social at the start of December. More about those soon, please keep an eye on the WorthingDigital website if you’re interested.