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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Search Diary: Searching For Climbing Holds

As readers of my personal blog know, I’ve been building a tree house over the summer for my kids. It’s about to come out of beta, with me needing to add some climbing holds to one of the outer walls to largely finish it off. That means ordering some, and when I started searching today, I thought this would be a good time to begin something I’ve long wanted to do: a regular search diary. Below, I look at what I got in response to my search: the good, the bad and the ugly.

I’ve done this search before in the past, so I’ve learned those fake rocks are called "climbing holds" and so searched for them that way. Since I’m based in the UK, I also went straight to Google UK for my search, to increase the odds that I got UK results. I didn’t use the "pages from the UK" option because the default search already was skewed towards UK results (which makes kind of a mockery of offering that UK-filtering option. Google’s going to pretty much do it for you whether you wanted it or not). I also ignored Google Product Search despite being in "shopping mode," as I wanted a more general sense of what was out there.

The results, for climbing holds:

Search Dairy: Climbing Holds

Looking At The Ads

I’m going to start with the ads. I’m ready to buy, not research, so the ads are places that should be ready to sell me some holds. As I talk about them, I’ll number them in order that they appear on the page, 1 & 2 across the top, then 3 and onward down the side.

The Good

Search Dairy: Climbing Holds

Number 1 was Mock Rock, with some sets that would be suitable. On target! At 2, Climbkit also had some good sets, though with a delivery time of 2-3 weeks, I won’t be buying. Both are shown above.

Down at number 5, NCDS delivered me to their home page rather than a more targeted page about their various climbing hold sets. Still, I found that page and felt I got a relevant result.

The Bad

Search Dairy: Climbing Holds

Number 3 and 4 (above) both delivered me to sites that would provide mobile climbing walls, not what I needed. They seem to be running their ads against any search for "climbing," which is why I got them. Somewhat similarly, 8 and 10 are for places that build climbing walls — not really what I’m looking for.

The Ugly

Search Dairy: Climbing Holds

At 6 & 7 (above), I got auction ads. OK, eBay DOES have relevant listings, but some of what I was shown seemed to be from the same companies I already found advertising directly, like Mock Rock. Then I’ve got Everysell, which seems to be a meta auction search engine, which further seems to be just dominated by eBay listings. I already had eBay in Google’s results — I don’t need them again.

Search Dairy: Climbing Holds

DealTime, above, promises me climbing holds in the title of the add, but when I arrive on the site, it’s disappointing:

Search Dairy: Climbing Holds

No, I really didn’t mean "Climbing Hoods" — and since you’re running an ad telling me you’ve specifically got "climbing holds," trying to change my spelling is less than impressive.

Meanwhile DealTime, if you’ve got any matches, why not show them? Why make me have to click on the links to open these up? Could it be because you’d rather just get me to click on those big sponsored listings at the bottom of the page — you know, which are exactly the same sponsored listings I already saw at Google?

Maybe I’ll buy some of those climbing holds that come in the shape of letters and then spell out A-B-I-T-R-A-G-E to explain to my kids, as they climb the wall, how arbitrage means you buy traffic for less money than you earn after getting someone to your site where you just push them out through paid links.

Overall, the paid links score a 40 percent for relevancy, counting the three good matches plus adding in eBay, which while ugly was relevant.

Looking At The Editorial Results

Now for the organic results, this time numbered in order of how they appear from the top downward.

The Good

Search Dairy: Climbing Holds

Number 1 and 2 (above) are both sites in the UK selling holds, exactly what I want. Number 3 also sells them, though Google really should have just listed one page from the site and that being the "indented" result rather than the home page, which while it promises to be about Beacon Climbing holds is actually about Beacon Climbing (which sells holds among many other things):

Search Dairy: Climbing Holds

The Bad

There is no bad. Continuing down the page, every one of the listings is one target — not only do those listed sell climbing holds, but they are all also based in the UK. I might complain about Google forcing UK results upon me even when I used the "search the web" rather than the "search pages from the UK" option, but that skewing did make for a better experience.

The Ugly:

Search Dairy: Climbing Holds

eBay is in at number 5, and I initially dismissed it as Google being bad by showing a single page for an auction that probably expired. Instead, this is the eBay UK category for climbing hold products. OK, relevant, but a description that makes me want to go away:

That description comes straight from eBay’s own meta description tag, so here’s a tip, eBay. Lose some of those commas and give me a nice, easy-to-read sentence describing what this page is about.

Overall, the editorial links scored 100 percent.


DO NOT take this single test as how Google performs overall for relevancy or against competitors. It’s simply mean to be a anecdotal look at a search, from the perspective of a searcher, albeit it a savvy searcher. Overall:

  • The editorial results rocked, pun intended!
  • The paid results left much to be desired. Google uses broad match by default primarily, in my view, to make more money. If broad match was off by default, I’d have seen fewer ads but had a better experience.
  • Advertisers need to think about landing pages more. Most place just dumped me on their home pages. C’mon, folks, give me a custom tailored experience. You’re paying for it, after all.

By the way, I just got off the phone now after placing my order. The winner? Beacon Climbing, which I originally had rejected as perhaps being a mismatch, a place that only offered courses. Several of the places I explored had nice kits, but they also seemed to have long delays (sorry, Custom Holds — you looked great, but I need them now!).

What got me going with Beacon was over off, barely noticeable, the Budget Calculator option. I’ve never built a climbing wall and have no idea how many rocks I need for it. Custom Holds, which I already mentioned, had good advice (and here), but as I said, the delay in ordering put me off. So the Budget Calculator at Beacon reached out to my confused mind and promised an easy solution:

If you have a set budget then you can use the BEACON CHOICE page as a quick and easy way to decide how many holds of each size you can afford. Simply choose the type of wall that most closely fits what you are planning and add the number of holds in each size that you want to your basket and juggle the quantities of each size until you reach your desired budget.

I didn’t have a set budget, but I figured I could start plugging in numbers to get a sense of how many holds might come to for different types of walls. Following through calculator oddly took me to the main catalog, where after some reading, I realized I needed to go to the "Beacon Choice" area. Once there, I’d seemingly reached the promised land, an option for "Kids Wall Ply," telling me:

For kids climbing walls on ply wood you need a good mix of medium to mega large holds to make the climbing interesting but achievable.

Sadly, clicking on this option left it to me to figure out how many holds of each type I wanted. That put me off — but I could tell at this point that I’d found a company used to dealing with the types of holds that work for kids. I abandoned the web, picked up the phone, talked a little bit about what I needed and the holds come later this week!

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