Category Archives: Blog

Google Certified

It had been about two years since I achieved the Google Analytics Individual Qualification (IQ) and Google Adwords certification. The Adwords certification requires retaking the two exams every 12 months, whilst the IQ expires after 18 months so both my qualifications had lapsed. I simply had other priorities last year, such as completing my Open University degree, but it had always been my intention to retake the exams.

There seems to be a split in opinion as to whether it is worth achieving qualifications like these. They are sometimes perceived to be too easy to achieve or that they imply a greater level of expertise than they really demonstrate. I think those arguments gloss over the many benefits that certification brings to an individual and their employer.

  • A product like Google Analytics is pretty big and complex. Many users will only use a subset of it and possibly not that frequently. Anything that helps you understand its potential and learn about aspects you were not previously aware of has to be a good thing.
  • Adwords and Google Analytics are actively developed. New features are introduced, old ones dropped. We can’t all keep up with every digital marketing change all of the time so delving into the official Google guides during the revision process helps to keep your knowledge up-to-date.
  • Achieving certification doesn’t make you a guru. However it does demonstrate to your clients and employer a certain level of competency, dedication and interest. If it gives you, and them, confidence in your abilities and makes you stand out from the crowd then that is a positive thing. If it was that easy to achieve then everyone would have the qualifications!
  • If you understand Google Analytics then you can apply your knowledge to other analytic packages. If you understand Adwords then you can quickly pick up other forms of digital advertising and PPC solutions. The skills are transferable – you might use GA for monitoring your web site but you’ll find it is useful in other areas such as SEO and the process might open your eyes to other skills.

My main motivation for retaking the exams was to brush up on my knowledge. The actual learning experience is more valuable than having the qualification. I recall having to pay for two Adword exams and the one Analytic exam two years ago, however I didn’t have to pay for either this time. This addresses many peoples’ complaints, which is the qualifications were a money making exercise for Google. I did wonder if by removing the cost, it would potentially mean less dedicated individuals would take the exams, devaluing the worth of the qualifications.

I don’t think this is the case though, as I found the Google Analytics exam more difficult than I remembered. There are still questions in both exams that are straightforward and easy but there are also plenty that can trip you up if you have not read the Google guides and are not familiar with the topics.

I spent a hour or two each evening for a week preparing for each exam and that gave me the knowledge to pass them all on the first attempt. Of the three exams, the Adwords Fundamentals is the most straightforward and the GA the most challenging. To achieve Adwords certification you will need to take a second exam. I chose Search Advertising which, whilst covering some of the same content as the Fundamentals, is the most relevant to the work I am doing right now.

Having now achieved certification in Adwords, Analytics and Bing Ads, I feel the effort was worth it to keep my skills refreshed and up-to-date.

Bing Certification

I decided to start the year positively by achieving Bing Ads Accredited Professional status. A couple of years ago I passed the Google Adwords and Analytic certification exams so although I hadn’t taken the Bing Ads exam before, I had a good idea of what to expect.

I’ve used Bing Ads for a couple of years now and whilst it may not have the reach of Google Ads, it can be a really effective way of utilising your Pay Per Click budget. In comparison to Google it can be less competitive for some search terms. Passing one exam certainly won’t make you a digital marketing guru, however I felt working towards accredited status would improve my Bing Ads knowledge, which could give my PPC campaigns an extra edge, and demonstrates a certain level of competency and willingness to learn.

To achieve Bing Accredited Professional status you have to:

  • Accept the terms of the Bing program (i.e. check a box!)
  • Have managed at least one Bing Ads account and prove this by providing a Bing customer ID.
  • Pass the Accredited Professional exam.

Although I considered myself quite well versed in Bing Ads, I still read through the Bing Ads Courses provided online by Microsoft. These are free and written in bite sizes and easy to understand terminology. If you’ve read the Google Adwords equivalent then you’ll find the Bing Ads training is a lot shorter and it took me just a couple of evenings to work my way through them.

I then signed up to the exam, which is also free and requires a minimum of 80% to pass (I got 96%). The exam is similar to the Google ones but there is just one exam consisting of 100 questions. You can also pause the exam and come back to it later.

I found the exam reasonably straightforward with some answers being obvious, whilst one or two require some thought. There was a quite a lot of emphasis on the Bing Ads Editor and Bing Intelligence Tool, neither of which I had really used but had read up on. I completed the exam in one sitting, finishing it under an hour.

Once passed the accreditation is valid for 12 months and you can be listed on the Bing Professional directory. You also receive a PDF certificate and you are allowed to promote your new status on your web site and marketing materials with a Accredited Professional badge.

So a positive start to the year and a way of easing myself into renewing my Google Adwords and Analytic certifications!

Open University Exeter Plymouth

It’s been about six months since I completed my Open University degree and with the year coming to a close, I’ve been reflecting on how I have benefited from my studies.

My Open University education started with a Certificate in Web Application Development. This was a diploma-like qualification which covered different aspects of web development including client side scripting with JavaScript, server side languages like PHP and web server management. At the time I was doing some freelance web design work and this was an angle I wanted to explore further. I enjoyed the experience so much I decided to continue my studies by progressing to a degree in computing.

As my career progressed, I found that the computing modules were becoming less relevant to my work goals so I switched to an Open degree. This is one of the Open University’s most popular courses with students in full time employment because it gives students the flexibility to study modules from different subjects. This degree took six years to complete so its fair to say I’ve invested quite a bit of time (and yes, money) with the Open Uni.

Reflecting on my personal development

Looking back at where I was before I started distance learning, I am sure that my studies have improved my employability and career. From a personal development point of view, I have become more confident in my abilities. After all if you can juggle a full time job, family and a degree then you should be able to cope with most things work throws at you. I would like to think the modules, particularly the technical ones, have improved my analytical thinking and problem solving skills and this is something that transcends different roles and jobs.

Perhaps most importantly, it has honed my time management skills. As a part-time student and full-time worker, you have to be able to plan your schedule, prioritise and re-adjust when the inevitable difficulties arise, whether that is illness or simply finding part of a course harder and more time consuming than you expected.

To complete a distance learning course requires commitment, self motivation and a strong work ethic. These are qualities that employers should value and I believe my Open degree demonstrates these characteristics. Most people couldn’t combine work, family and studies or perhaps simply wouldn’t want to.

Life long learning

My studies tapped into a desire to learn and I think this is something that will stick with me throughout my life. Reports and studies often tell us today’s workers will experience more career variety and changes than previous generations. Even if this were not true, the changing nature of technology and the role it plays in most industries shows that not being afraid to learn new skills and being able to adapt is important in the workplace.

To successfully complete a university level education, you need to be able to formulate and express opinions and arguments and communicate these both verbally in tutorials and concisely in essays and assignments. Skills like these are transferable to the workplace too.

Practical skills

I learnt a diverse range of skills from the modules I studied. Modules in database design and object oriented programming mean I can understand technical difficulties in projects and communicate with both “techies” and “normal” colleagues.

Modules in Windows server technologies and web server management have proved invaluable in supporting the organisation I currently work for. Even if the versions of operating systems change, the underlying fundamentals often remain the same.

A module I completed in “design thinking” proved to be one of the most enjoyable and creative. It developed further my understanding of design and what is involved in solving problems creatively by developing a portfolio of work and collaborating with other students online.

“Change, Strategy and Projects At Work” developed project management skills and had a strong vocational aspect that used a workplace project for the coursework.

I was able to take something from each module and see how it could relate to my work at the time.

A credible university

People know and respect the Open University and what is required from its students. My graduation ceremony meant more than when I graduated from the University of Plymouth because of the amount of effort it required to get there and the realisation that I was following in big foot steps.

The Open University was founded in 1969 by Prime Minister Harold Wilson with the laudable goal of providing a high quality university education to all through innovative open learning systems and progressive technology. In my experience the Open University compares extremely well with other universities. I had a very positive time at the University of Plymouth, graduating with a 2:1 in Digital Arts and Technology, but the quality of learning materials providing by the Open University is second to none. At a “standard” university, you are directed by tutorials and lectures and you obviously have a community of students and tutors that keep you motivated. With the Open University, the experience is a lot more remote because that is the nature of distance learning. Yes, there are face-to-face tutorials, online forums and conferencing to help. But you are still very much reliant on your own drive. The standard of the exams and coursework is no different with the Open University than any other uni.

Continuing my studies

It was a relief to finish my studies and get back some free time. I went swimming and mountain biking more. I watched more TV in the evenings. Now my thoughts keep returning to whether I should do another course or qualification. I don’t want to commit to another Open University course but my Google Adwords and Google Analytics certifications have expired so I might consider renewing these next year. Another option I’ve been considering is a digital marketing qualification. I haven’t decided what would be most worthwhile but I think I will start something new in 2016.

Plymouth Childminder

I’ve now launched my wife’s Plymouth childminder web site to support her new business.

I’m particularly pleased with the logo, which has a bit of a 90s computer game feel to it. The star is similar to the Mario Bros star coins and the rainbow is reminiscent of Rainbow Islands.

I decided against using a CMS for this web site as I’m sure my wife will be asking me to make any updates to it anyway! Instead its hand coded PHP to handle the server side includes and form submission/validation. As with all sites these days, this one needed to look good on mobile devices so CSS media query breakpoints alter the layout of the pages depending on the display width.

The contact form validation uses the visualCaptcha plugin, which is more user friendly than the standard captcha form fields. The drag and drop interface works well on mobile devices and is also quite playful, something that ties in with the childminding theme.

A simple leaflet that I designed can be downloaded from the site and I’ve made use of the footer space to promote Tanya’s Little Treasures’ Facebook page. I can see that Facebook could be a really good way of promoting a business like this, particularly if status updates are posted regularly and on topics that are of interest to other Plymouth mums on Facebook, such as weaning advice, things to do in Plymouth with children.

Once the site starts showing on the local Google search results then I hope this will become the main marketing tool for the business.

I’ve just finished a web site for a friend of mine who has taken over a restaurant in Brixham, Devon.

The Montpellier Restaurant is on Brixham harbour and offers light meals and drinks during the day and is open as an elegant restaurant in the evening. I felt the web site needed to emphasise the great location and surroundings and needed some good quality photos to entice people in for food and drink.

Many restaurant web sites are disappointing user experiences, with PDF food menus and uninspiring designs. The Montpellier web site design had to reflect the look of the restaurant, which is quite elegant with black, white and gold colours, and the web site logo had to look like the sign hanging outside the restaurant.

I wanted a full background image of Brixham harbour that changed during the day to reflect the changing menu. I used two photos of the harbour and a great photo of Brixham at night. A simple piece of JavaScript changes the CSS depending on the time of day.

The Montpellier Restaurant in Brixham, Devon

What a restaurant web site should tell you

When I visit a restaurant web site, the main things I want to know are:

  • What the food is like
  • Where it is
  • How to contact them
  • Whether it is any good!

The top of the homepage has a slideshow that scrolls through some photos of the restaurant and its food and drink so visitors quickly get an idea of what the place is like. Below that is a personalised, friendly message from the staff that welcomes visitors to the site with clear contact details.

The Montpellier has lots of good reviews on TripAdvisor.co.uk so I created an animated ticker tape that scrolls through some customer reviews. Below this a Google Map clearly shows visitors how to get to the restaurant.

Local mobile searches

With local searches being so important to small businesses like this one and many people using mobile devices to search for places to eat, the site had to work well on different size displays.
The Montpellier Restaurant in Brixham, Devon

I decided WordPress would be a suitable CMS because it is fairly easy for novices to use, allowing restaurant staff to change the food and drink menu themselves if they wanted. I created my own custom theme based upon this OneExtraPixel article that has several CSS breakpoints. These breakpoints alter the display of the page depending on the width of the browser window. This allowed me to move the left hand side menus below the main content on narrow devices and to style the main navigation menu differently on mobiles.

The Montpellier Restaurant in Brixham, Devon

The Montpellier Restaurant in Brixham, Devon

jQuery accordion and photo gallery

The food and drink menus are quite long and different menus are available at different times of the day. I used a sliding vertical accordion to avoid displaying too much content to visitors at once on the restaurant menu page and this also works well on mobile devices where visitors will not want to scroll too much.

The photo gallery page shows lots of great pictures in a Google+ way using a nifty WordPress plugin. Finally, the restaurant needed to promote its holiday apartments and venue hire so I created a couple of pages for this and a contact page form.

Social media for marketing

Social media should be a really important way to promote a local business like this so Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram accounts were set-up for the restaurant. People love to tell their friends where they are going out for the evening and to post pictures of their food and drink so creating a positive image of the restaurant using social media can be a powerful marketing tool. If someone has 100 Facebook friends and posts a great picture of eating in the restaurant then they are doing your marketing for you!

Twitter can also be a powerful tool, for example the restaurant could turn a late cancellation into a special discounted offer with a tweet that their followers could re-tweet.

I also designed a set of business cards with the restaurant logo and address on one side and the web site address and TripAdvisor.co.uk details on the other.

With a web site and integrated social media accounts, business cards, themontpellierbrixham.com email addresses, Google Analytics and Adwords accounts, the restaurant now has everything they need to effectively market their business online.

After a summer break I have started my next Open University course and the end to my (second) degree is almost in sight. Once I have finished this course in May I will need to do just one more standard length course and a short course to complete my degree.

After a few heavy going techie courses, including “Microsoft Server Technologies” and “Relational Databases: Theory and Practice”, I’m looking forward to “Design Thinking: Creativity For The 21st Century”.

In the OU’s words, it is “packed with new learning innovation, it will change your way of seeing and solving complex problems forever” – which is a pretty big promise to make! My study pack has arrived and includes some intriguing materials:

  • Masking tape
  • Sticky notes
  • A blank t-shirt
  • An envelope
  • Welcome cards

Design Thinking

The course looks at common principles of design and ways of thinking that lead to ideas and creative solutions. There is an online design studio to upload your work and discuss with other students and the course is broken down into four blocks:

  • Design and the individual
  • Designing for others and with others
  • Design in society
  • The global impact of design

I have plenty of design experience and the description of the course reminds of my MediaLab Arts days at Plymouth Uni so it will be interesting to see how the course is presented and how collaborations between students is encouraged online.

To achieve Google AdWords certification, you need to pass two online exams. I passed the Google Advertising Fundamentals exam in July and took the Search Advertising Advanced exam two weeks later.

The Google Advertising Fundamentals exam is compulsory but you have the choice in which advanced exam you take. There is the Advanced Display exam, which covers topics such as:

  • About the Google Display Network
  • Planning a Google Display Network campaign
  • Measuring performance
  • Creating Display Network ads
  • Ad optimisation for Google Display Network

However I opted to take the Search Advertising Advanced exam because the topics were more closely related to how I have used AdWords in my work:

  • Ad formats
  • Ad and site quality
  • AdWords tools
  • Performance monitoring and reporting
  • Optimising performance
  • Performance, profitability and growth
  • The AdWords API

Studying for the Google Search Advertising exam

After doing well in the AdWords Fundamentals exam, I took the same approach to the Search Advertising exam. I spent a week reading through the GCP Learning Centre using my AdWords account to look at any features I wasn’t too familiar with. I then bought the ipass.com Display Advanced study pack, which consists of 300 or so mock exam questions, and spent another week working through those.

Taking the Google Search Advertising exam

Passing the Fundamentals exam gave me confidence going into the advanced exam and I set aside a couple of hours on a Friday night to complete it. This time I knew what to expect and was fairly sure I would do OK.

I found some of the questions were very similar to the ones in the Fundamentals exam and I passed the exam relatively smoothly. You need to a score of 80% or above to pass (compared to 85% in the Fundamentals exam) and I achieved 87%.

I have just passed the Google Analytics Individual Qualification (IQ) exam. I took the exam to demonstrate my knowledge of Google Analytics and I hoped the study process would also improve my knowledge of the tool.

As I passed the Google AdWords Certification Program earlier this summer, I thought it might be interesting to compare the two and share my tips for passing the Google Analytics exam.

Google Analytics Individual Qualification Syllabus

The Google Analytics Individual Qualification covers:

  • Working with report data, interpreting time metrics, traffic sources and content reports.
  • Campaign tracking and AdWords integration.
  • Goals, filters and e-commerce tracking.
  • Regex in Google Analytics.
  • Advanced Segments.
  • Analytics Intelligence.
  • Internal Site Search.
  • Event tracking, virtual page views and multi-channel funnels.

That’s quite a bit to cover but fortunately Google provides online IQ lessons. However, I found these resources quite weak compared to the Google AdWords resource centre.

Studying For The Google Analytics Individual Qualification

The IQ lessons are mostly in the form of videos, which I find quite difficult to learn from. I prefer to read and make notes and generally find that videos cover topics at the wrong pace for me, either too slow or too fast. My attention drifted whilst watching the IQ lessons and I found the AdWords Help Centre a much more effective learning resource when studying towards AdWords certification.

I then signed up to ipass.com and purchased the Google Analytics study pack, which consists of over 250 exam style questions for $50. The ipass.com AdWords study pack was very good and the Google Analytics pack was just as useful. Each answer comes with an explanation so working through the questions whilst referring to my Google Analytics account was an effective way of preparing for the exam.

The ipass.com Google Analytics questions were very challenging however. I consistently scored below the 80% pass rate required to pass the IQ exam and was unsure whether I was ready. With a discount code, I paid half the £50 IQ exam fee and took the plunge anyway. I really wanted to pass the exam before starting my next Open University course so thought it was worth the risk.

The Google Analytics Individual Exam

First you need to sign up at the Google Testing Centre. The qualification requires a pass score of 80% in one 90 minute online exam that can be sat at home (or work). In comparison the AdWords qualification consists of two online exams.

The IQ exam, like the AdWords exam, is multiple choice and some questions require you to select more than one answer. The exam is ‘open book’ so you can refer to other web sites, which obviously makes the exam easier but you probably wouldn’t have time to Google every question.

I kept several browser tabs open with my Google Analytics account, the Google Analytics help pages and the Google search home page loaded.

In comparison, the AdWords certification forces you to use a special browser loaded on your PC for the exam which prevents you from browsing other sites. The IQ exam can also be paused at any time and you can return to it within 48 hours. I thought this was rather bizarre and completed the exam in one sitting – although I did pause the exam for half an hour when our baby woke up crying for a late night feed…

Was it worth it?

I passed with 90% and a couple of minutes left after double-checking my answers. The exam wasn’t as difficult as the ipass.com study questions and overall I was fairly comfortable with the questions.

Achieving AdWords certification requires more effort but my skills have been enhanced by studying for the Google Analytics exam. If you are considering it, then I recommend giving it a go. Its a way of raising your skill level and demonstrating your knowledge.

On Friday I passed the Google Adwords Fundamentals exam and thought I would share my experience. To achieve Google Adwords certification, you need to pass the Fundamentals exam and one of two advanced exams: either the Search Advertising Advanced Exam and Display Exam.

The Fundamentals exam requires a minimum of 85% to pass, which doesn’t leave much margin for error. I have a couple years experience of Adwords but still could not have passed the exam without studying for it. The Adwords Fundamentals exam covers topics such as campaign management, ad formats and keyword targetting.

The Google Certification Program is the number one essential resource if you are preparing to take the exam because it covers the syllabus of the exam in detail. I read through the Adwords Fundamentals section several times, taking notes and using my Adwords account to get practical experience of areas I wasn’t too familiar with.

I then purchased the iPass Adwords Fundamentals Study pack from ipassexam.com. This includes 300 test questions and a mock exam. The study pack cost £24 and was well worth it. I answered all 300 test questions and sat the mock exam. I got less than 85% in the mock exam a couple of days before sitting the real thing but it was invaluable experience.

The exam itself costs £33 ($50) and you can only get one attempt at the exam for that payment. The exam is done online and doesn’t have to be done at an exam centre like many other IT qualifications. That might make it sound easy but the exam can only be sat using a special browser which prevents you from using your laptop/PC for anything else. The exam consists of approximately 100 questions and must be completed within 2 hours.

It probably took me about four weeks of studying most nights before I took the exam. I’m not sure if I needed that amount of study or how that compares to other people but how much studying you need to do will depend on your experience and how confident you feel. Some of the questions are worded in such a way that it is easy to misunderstand them. If you get a couple of questions wrong because you didn’t take the time to read them properly then there is a good chance you will fail.

I passed the Adwords Fundamentals exam at the first attempt with 96%. I was in two minds whether to take the exam on Friday night because it has been a long week and it was gone 10pm before I started. I did wonder whether I needed a bit more study time but my doubts were unfounded. If you are thinking about taking the exam, my advice would be to go for it. If you fail then just treat it as a practice exam and take it again after a bit more studying.

I’m studying towards a degree in computing with the Open University and TM128 Microsoft Server Technologies was the 11th course I have taken with the OU. I completed TM128 a couple of weeks ago so now is a good time to reflect on my experience of it.

The course is made up of three blocks:

  • Networking Fundamentals, which uses the CompTia Network+ learning materials for much of it.
  • Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure Configuration, which closely follows the syllabus of the Microsoft exam 70-642.
  • Windows Server 2008 Active Directory Configuration, which is similar to the Microsoft exam 70-640.

Practical Windows Server experience

The course is a very hands-on, practical course and students use the Microsoft Official Academic Coursework (MOAC) books and virtual machines to gain real experience of configuring and troubleshooting Windows Server 2008. I used Oracle’s Virtual Box for my virtual machines because I had experience of it and this is the supported OU environment.

Microsoft certification

The course content is similar to the Microsoft Windows 2008 Server exams and although the goal of the course isn’t to prepare students for taking these exams, students do use the official MS books and have access to Microsoft Labs if they want additional study materials. When I started the course, I intended to take both Microsoft exams but found the OU course took up more hours than I expected and didn’t really leave me with enough spare time to do the additional studying required for the exams.

I was disappointed not to sit the exams but extra preparation is definitely required on top of your OU studies if you want to be confident of passing 70-642 or 70-640 first time. TM128 is a level one course but is still quite challenging. I’ve got plenty experience of configuring Windows 2003, 2008 and Active Directory and found it was the amount of work you were expected to do and how long some of the practical exercises took to complete that was the main challenge.

TM128 – Blocks 1,2 and 3

I found block 1’s “Networking Fundamentals” was a dry start to the course and too heavy on the theory for my liking. Other students found this section more enjoyable than me. I found I knew most of what was covered and it just didn’t excite me.

Blocks 2 and 3 were more enjoyable, mainly because of the practical exercises. Large chunks of blocks 2 and 3 were already familiar to me from the experience I have gained from work but there were areas of Active Directory and Windows networking that I hadn’t touched before. Despite my knowledge, I found I still had to complete most of the practical exercises to do well in the written assignments.

Good…but not a shortcut to Microsoft Server certification

The course provides a thorough understanding of Windows Server 2008 and a solid introduction to networking. I suppose I viewed it as a shortcut to achieving Microsoft certification, effectively killing two birds with one stone by getting some more credits towards my degree and gaining another qualification, but the course isn’t really that. TM128 is good, well run and as detailed as I have come to expect from the Open University though.