6 Steps to E-commerce Success in B2B Seller Marketplaces

Amazon Business is expected to reach $52 billion in sales by 2023; Alibaba and eBay are also competing actively in the B2B space. But these e-commerce giants are only part of the story. How should B2B marketers get in on the action? Read on.

Amazon Business is expected to reach $52 billion in sales by 2023, and is growing faster than its consumer side. Alibaba and eBay are also competing actively in the B2B space. But these e-commerce  giants are only part of the story. Complex categories like oil and gas, chemicals, aviation and manufacturing are taking expense out of their selling processes by setting up industry-specific marketplaces. So how should B2B marketers get in on the action? Read on.

As buyers worldwide become increasingly comfortable with “remote buying,” this is the perfect time for B2B sellers to find ways to use e-commerce to improve their customers’ buying experience, eliminate costs from the selling process, and find new markets.

How to make sense of this all? Here’s a six-step e-commerce process to follow.

1. Develop a Strategic Approach

This is as much a distribution question as it is marketing question, so engage your entire go-to-market team to develop a strategy. Get started by asking these key questions:

  • What areas of our product line are suited to e-commerce? In B2B, the answer usually begins with the aftermarket, like parts.
  • How can we leverage e-commerce without causing strife in our existing distribution channel relationships?
  • Are there elements of our current selling process that could benefit from digital automation? The first step in B2B was e-procurement and EDI. Where else can we find opportunity for speed and savings?

Review Your Options

The landscape of existing B2B seller marketplace options is already well populated.  See what your competitors may be doing on the majors.  Then look at activity in your industry as a whole.  In aerospace, it’s ePlane and Honeywell’s multivendor platform GoDirect Trade. In chemicals, it’s CheMondis, launched in Europe to serve the global market. Manufacturers use Asseta for semiconductor parts.

Keep Close to Your Customers

Listen to how they want to buy from you. Especially your key accounts. You’ll find them your best source for actionable ideas for your digital transformation.

Revise Your Marketing Communications

Selling on marketplaces means a different approach from traditional lead generation and sales enablement, in two ways, explains Liz Brohan, co-CEO of CBD Marketing in Chicago.

First, it’s a direct selling environment, so you’ll need product images, videos, descriptive copy, and the keywords most relevant to buyers. This means giving up a certain amount of control, as your selling materials will have to comply with standards set by the marketplace.

Second, you’ll be on the same platform with your direct competitors, so focus on how to stand out and how to differentiate. This may be through thought leadership content, top quality video, and keen attention to your pricing. “On marketplaces, B2B marketers need to think about building brand awareness, almost like a CPG company,” says Brohan.

Ramp Up Your Own E-commerce

Most B2B companies expect e-commerce to comprise 40% of their topline revenue by 2025, according to Digital Commerce 360. Opportunity is everywhere. Not just parts and aftermarket.  Examine areas of your selling process that can be shifted to self-service online.

Watch Amazon Like a Hawk

It’s no secret that Amazon is revolutionizing B2B e-commerce. It continues to disrupt, experimenting with private-label products in categories like MRO and office supplies, thus going into direct competition with their sellers. Amazon also has introduced Dash Smart Shelf, an automatic replenishment system for office supplies. Businesses who chose to sell at Amazon Business are in for a roller coaster ride.

The opportunity is huge, and so are the challenges.  So let’s get busy cracking this new nut.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

‘Too Much’ Is a Relative Term for Promotional Marketing

If a marketer sends you 20 promotional emails in a month, is that too much? You may say “yes” without even thinking about it. Then why did you not opt out of Amazon email programs when they send far more promotional stuff to you every month?

If a marketer sends you 20 promotional emails in a month, is that too much? You may say “yes” without even thinking about it. Then why did you not opt out of Amazon email programs when they send far more promotional stuff to you every month? Just because it’s a huge brand? I bet it’s because “some” of its promotions are indeed relevant to your needs.

Marketers are often obsessed with KPIs, such as email delivery, open, and clickthrough rates. Some companies reward their employees based on the sheer number of successful email campaign deployments and deliveries. Inevitably, such a practice leads to “over-promotions.” But does every recipient see it that way?

If a customer responds (opens, clicks, or converts, where the conversion is king) multiple times to those 20 emails, maybe that particular customer is NOT over-promoted. Maybe it is okay for you to send more promotional stuff to that customer, granted that the offers are relevant and beneficial to her. But not if she doesn’t open a single email for some time, that’s the very definition of “over-promotion,” leading to an opt-out.

As you can see, the sheer number of emails (or any other channel promotion) to a person should not be the sole barometer. Every customer is different, and recognition of such differences is the first step toward proper personalization. In other words, before worrying about customizing offers and products for a target individual, figure out her personal threshold for over-promotion. How much is too much for everyone?

Figuring out the magic number for each customer is a daunting task, so start with three basic tiers:

  1. Over-promoted,
  2. Adequately promoted, and
  3. Under-promoted.

To get to that, you must merge promotional history data (not just for emails, but for every channel) and response history data (which includes open, clickthrough, browse, and conversion data) on an individual level.

Sounds simple? But marketing organizations rarely get into such practices. Most attributions are done on a channel level, and many do not even have all required data in the same pool. Worse, many don’t have any proper match keys and rules that govern necessary matching steps (i.e., individual-level attribution).

The issue is further compounded by inconsistent rules and data availability among channels (e.g., totally different practices for online and offline channels). So much for the coveted “360-Degree Customer View.” Most organizations fail at “hello” when it comes to marrying promotion and response history data, even for the most recent month.

But is it really that difficult of an operation? After all, any respectful direct marketers are accustomed to good old “match-back” routines, complete with resolutions for fractional allocations. For instance, if the target received multiple promotions in the given study period, which one should be attributed to the conversion? The last one? The first one? Or some credit distribution, based on allocation rules? This is where the rule book comes in.

Now, all online marketers are familiar with reporting tools provided by reputable players, like Google or Adobe. Yes, it is relatively simple to navigate through them. But if the goal is to determine who is over-promoted or adequately promoted, how would you go about it? The best way, of course, is to do the match-back on an individual level, like the old days of direct marketing. But thanks to the sheer volume of online activity data and complexity of match-back, due to the frequent nature of online promotions, you’d be lucky if you could just get past basic “last-click” attribution on an individual level for merely the last quarter.

I sympathize with all of the dilemmas associated with individual-level attributions, so allow me to introduce a simpler way (i.e., a cheat) to get to the individual-level statistics of over- and under-promotion.

Step 1: Count the Basic Elements

Set up the study period of one or two years, and make sure to include full calendar years (such as rolling 12 months, 24 months, etc.). You don’t want to skew the figures by introducing the seasonality factor. Then add up all of the conversions (or transactions) for each individual. While at it, count the opens and clicks, if you have extracted data from toolsets. On the promotional side, count the number of emails and direct mails to each individual. You only have to worry about the outbound channels, as the goal is to curb promotional frequency in the end.

Step 2: Once You Have These Basic Figures, Divide ‘Number of Conversions’ by ‘Number of Promotions’

Perform separate calculations for each channel. For now, don’t worry about the overlaps among channels (i.e., double credit of conversions among channels). We are only looking for directional guidelines for each individual, not comprehensive channel attribution, at this point. For example, email responsiveness would be expressed as “Number of Conversions” divided by “Number of Email Promotions” for each individual in the given study period.

Step 3: Now That You Have Basic ‘Response Rates’

These response rates are for each channel and you must group them into good, bad, and ugly categories.

Examine the distribution curve of response rates, and break them into three segments of one.

  1. Under-promoted (the top part, in terms of response rate),
  2. Adequately Promoted (middle part of the curve),
  3. Over-promote (the bottom part, in terms of response rate).

Consult with a statistician, but when in hurry, start with one standard deviation (or one Z-score) from the top and the bottom. If the distribution is in a classic bell-curve shape (in many cases, it may not be), that will give roughly 17% each for over- and under-promoted segments, and conservatively leave about 2/3 of the target population in the middle. But of course, you can be more aggressive with cutoff lines, and one size will not fit all cases.

In any case, if you keep updating these figures at least once a month, they will automatically be adjusted, based on new data. In other words, if a customer stops responding to your promotions, she will consequently move toward the lower segments (in terms of responsiveness) without any manual intervention.

Putting It All Together

Now you have at least three basic segments grouped by their responsiveness to channel promotions. So, how would you use it?

Start with the “Over-promoted” group, and please decrease the promotional volume for them immediately. You are basically training them to ignore your messages by pushing them too far.

For the “Adequately Promoted” segment, start doing some personalization, in terms of products and offers, to increase response and value. Status quo doesn’t mean that you just repeat what you have been doing all along.

For “Under-promoted” customers, show some care. That does NOT mean you just increase the mail volume to them. They look under-promoted because they are repeat customers. Treat them with special offers and exclusive invitations. Do not ever take them for granted just because they tolerated bombardments of promotions from you. Figure out what “they” are about, and constantly pamper them.

Find Your Strategy

Why do I bother to share this much detail? Because as a consumer, I am so sick of mindless over-promotions. I wouldn’t even ask for sophisticated personalization from every marketer. Let’s start with doing away with carpet bombing to all. That begins with figuring out who is being over-promoted.

And by the way, if you are sending two emails a day to everyone, don’t bother with any of this data work. “Everyone” in your database is pretty much over-promoted. So please curb your enthusiasm, and give them a break.

Sometimes less is more.

3 Google Analytics Tips for E-Commerce

There’s a lot more to Google Analytics than looking at basic traffic metrics. These tips will help you make improvements to drive more e-commerce sales from your different marketing channels. 

Many businesses using Google Analytics are only scratching the surface of what Google Analytics can do. By not taking advantage of the platform’s more powerful features, they lose out on getting a lot of valuable insights about their marketing and how to make the most of their budgets.

Covering every aspect of Google Analytics would require an e-book. So in this article, I’ll walk through three steps to get you started and more familiar with Google Analytics.

1. Base Your Website Objectives on Specific Business Needs

You can use Google Analytics to measure how well your website performs in helping you hit your company’s target KPIs. Do not rely on the defaults set up in Google Analytics. Those are meant to cover a broad range of companies, and some of them are not applicable to your business needs.

Instead, take the time to define the important KPIs that your website should be hitting. For example, in addition to online sales, is your goal to generate quote requests for larger/bulk orders? Is another goal to collect email addresses by offering a free report? Where do visitors need to go on your website if they are interested in your products or services?

As you think through these goals, you’ll start to identify conversions that you need to set up in the Google Analytics admin area. This is a critical step that will allow you to monitor the performance of all of your different marketing channels. For example, if your goal is to generate quote requests, then you’ll need to set up a conversion to measure quote requests. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to run reports to see how many quote requests were generated from SEO vs. Google Ads vs. Facebook, or any other marketing channel you’re using.

We also recommend using the audience reporting views to see if your website visitors are actually your ideal customers. You can create customized segments for tracking important demographic points, like age, gender, and location.

Reviewing the information on your visitors may give your more perspective. Maybe your company needs to change its marketing strategy or website layout to resonate more with your target market.

2. Use E-Commerce Tracking

Google Analytics offers a feature called Enhanced E-Commerce. You should see it when setting up your Google Analytics account. Here are a few ways you can use the feature to get a better understanding of the customer journey through your website and shopping portal.

  1. You can track the shopping and checkout behavior of each visitor to your site. That includes product page-views, shopping cart additions and removals, abandoned items, and completed transactions.
  2. You can view metrics, like revenue generated, average transaction quantity, conversion rates for specific products, and how quickly products get added to a shopping cart. You can see what point a customer loses interest in the shopping experience. That lets you focus on tactics that keep them engaged and encourage them to complete a purchase.
  3. You can measure the success of various internal and external marketing efforts meant to encourage shopping and checkouts by visitors. For example, you can see whether the new product banner put up increased conversion rates.

The various reports give you a clear view of the path customers take as they shop on your website.

3. Sync Google Analytics With Your E-Commerce Platform

Many e-commerce platforms, like Shopify, have the ability to quickly sync with Google Analytics. This can save you and your team a lot of time and frustration trying to set everything up manually.

For example, the e-commerce analytics reporting mentioned above requires knowledge of Javascript, if you want to set it up yourself. Always check with the support team for your e-commerce platform to see if they have already synced up with Google Analytics. If they have, then you could be set up in a matter of minutes.

Look Beyond Surface Data

There’s a lot more to Google Analytics than looking at basic traffic metrics. These tips should allow you to gain a better understanding of where you can make improvements to drive more e-commerce sales from your different marketing channels.

  • First, identify your business goals and set up conversions in the Google Analytics admin area.
  • Second, set up enhanced e-commerce analytics either manually or by syncing your e-commerce platform with Google Analytics.
  • And third, review all the e-commerce reports to see which marketing channels can be improved to increase your sales.

Want more tips on how to use Google Analytics? Click here to grab a copy of our “Ultimate Google Analytics Checklist.”

 

Search Needs Computational Linguistics to Solve Its Problems

The increased use of mobile devices means search must learn to answer questions posed in natural language. Research and tech development at Google on natural language processing is filtering into the search results. So SEOs need to step beyond the keyword into computational linguistics.

As users have become increasingly dependent on their digital devices, they expect to search on them using more natural language to shape the queries. Search is deeply embedded in the fabric of our lives, and we expect more from it than previously.

We spend hours on our mobile devices every day and have devices that rely on natural language processing in our homes to turn the television on or entertain us. Every search is a quest, and users are constantly looking for and expect answers.

The terrain and contours of most e-commerce quests are reasonably easy to interpret, and SEOs have carefully developed methods for identifying keywords and concepts that apply to the most important quests that buyers/searchers will undertake for the products on offer.

Does this extend far enough? Not hardly.

We must stay with our consumers and develop an understanding of the challenges of search and how they are being addressed by those who build and operate search technology.

What’s Going On?

Each day, Google processes billions of searches and has publicly noted that 15% of those queries were previously unseen. This means that Google has no history of what the most relevant pages are to deliver for the query. These queries represent unfamiliar terrain, and Google has built ways to navigate this space.

What Needs to Happen?

The increased use of mobile devices that encourage the use of natural language means search must learn to answer questions posed in natural language. Current research and technology development at Google on natural language processing is filtering into the search results. SEOs need to step beyond the keyword into — are you ready — the arcane science of computational linguistics.

Computational linguistics is an interdisciplinary field that studies language from a computational perspective. Computational linguists build statistical or rule-based models and approaches to linguistic problems, such as natural language and search. The huge computational power available today has opened the door for rapid advances in the last five years. It is time for SEOs to integrate some of these learnings into their SEO practice.

Improving Natural Language Search

In October 2019, Google announced that it would be launching worldwide the BERT algorithm. BERT, short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. Training and tuning are very important steps in developing working search algorithms. (For more on the science, see this Google blog.)

Google expects this improved model to impact 10% of all searches. It will be particularly helpful for improving queries written or spoken in natural, conversational language.

Some savvy searchers search in keyword-ese, putting long strings of disconnected words together in their queries. By keyword stuffing their query, they hope to get better results.

My own research has shown that the most frequent queries are multiple nouns strung together with an occasional adjective for refinement — long (adjective) house (noun) coat (noun). This is a simple example, but queries that are questions are much more difficult to parse. BERT will go a long way toward eliminating the need to use keyword-ese.

BERT is not to be confused with Google’s improved AI-based system of neural matching that is used to understand how words and concepts relate to one another, a super-synonym system. Combine BERT with the other advances, and we can surely expect better quality results.

Search, as a Study, Is Not Static

SEOs need to learn as much as they can about these technologies. Although it seems — at first blush — that we cannot optimize for it, we can create better content that reacts better to the new technology, watch our performance metrics to see how much and if we are improving, and then make more changes as needed. Now, isn’t that optimizing?

Why Pulling Out of Amazon Is the Smartest Decision for Your Brand

Nike announced that as part of the company’s focus on elevating consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships, it will stop selling its merchandise directly to Amazon.com. Here’s why Nike made the right decision.

Nike announced that as part of the company’s focus on elevating consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships, it will stop selling its merchandise directly to Amazon.com. Here’s why Nike made the right decision.

Partnering with Amazon undoubtedly has benefits — namely, a built-in audience and speedy delivery options. However, it’s crucial to consider what you’re jeopardizing in exchange. You’re losing control of how your brand is presented. Even if you’re lucky enough to benefit from Amazon’s search algorithm — another thing brands have no control over — you essentially have no say in how your brand experience is delivered.

Last year, Nike partnered with Jet.com, and given what Jet’s chief customer officer said, I’m not surprised. David Echegoyen told Footwear News, “the way in which people find, discover and use your product is as much part of the experience as the fact that you buy them and use them.” Echegoyen explained that Jet’s focus would be on delivering an experience that would allow both brands to utilize customer insights to enhance their experience. And because Nike products would only be sold direct from the brand on the Jet site, the confusion and brand dilution that shoppers often experience on marketplace platforms would effectively be eliminated.

What every brand should seek in its retail partners — and, really, all partners, to the extent that it’s possible — is recognition of the importance of delivering a cohesive brand experience at every touchpoint, and the desire and capabilities to do so. The advantages of owning your brand experience are abundant.

Control Your Customer Journey

By limiting the channels where your products are available, you’re better able to deliver the best experience to your customers. This includes everything from product recommendations to delivery preferences, the physical unboxing experience, and more. This controlled approach also serves as a preventive measure against counterfeiting issues that could otherwise tarnish your brand’s reputation.

Own Your Data

Amazon traces every shopper’s step, utilizing that data to make product suggestions based upon its own algorithm. These are insights that would be incredibly valuable to brands, arming them with information that can help to deliver a better experience across all platforms, ultimately earning loyal customers. The problem is Amazon owns that data and doesn’t share it with brands. Now, selling direct to consumer on your own channels provides you with 100 percent of your data, the benefits of which warrant its own article. With a compatible, focused retail partner, there may be more room for a discussion about data sharing.

Secure Better Profit Margins

It’s difficult to predict revenues when the sales process is out of your hands. Going direct to consumer gives brands the most control over profit margins. However, as a new or emerging brand, third-party channels are commonly part of the mix. Profit margins are dependent upon the type of partner and the value they bring to the table — or in this case, the cart. Amazon controls the market, so the terms of merchant agreements are almost certainly dictated. However, when you have a like-minded partner dedicated to delivering an experience, the terms may be subject to negotiation.

Shatter the Delivery Myth

Thanks to the “Amazon Effect,” brands and retailers have had to figure out how to meet delivery expectations. My company conducted a 2019 study that revealed online shoppers weigh shipping costs and delivery speed more heavily in their purchasing decisions than ever. Consider that 58 percent of respondents said shipping costs greatly impact their decision to make an online purchase, and 62 percent said free shipping was the most influential factor in their decision to make future purchases. By utilizing sales and transportation data from your fulfillment team, you can map your customers’ journeys and customize shipping pricing and delivery speed to meet their unique expectations.

Selling through partners can be a huge asset, but it means there will always be an intermediary between you and your customer. If your sales channels include third-party retailers, make sure you’re all on the same page. Amazon can bolster brands in the short term, but to build a sustainable business, you must control how customers experience your brand, wherever they are.

Maria Haggerty is CEO and one of the original founders of Dotcom Distribution, a premier provider of B2C and B2B fulfillment and distribution services. 

WWTT? Walmart Learns Important Lesson About Third-Party Sellers This Holiday Season

I’m not sure when Ugly Christmas Sweaters became a thing, but they seem to show up regularly each holiday season, spurred by Ugly Christmas Sweater parties and people who enjoy making poor fashion decisions. However, it seems this trend has gone awry for Walmart Canada.

I’m not sure when Ugly Christmas Sweaters became a thing, but they seem to show up regularly each holiday season, spurred by Ugly Christmas Sweater parties and  people who enjoy making poor fashion decisions. However, it seems that what used to be ironic sweater-wearing has turned into shock-value sweater-wearing for some individuals, and there are sellers out there who will gladly cash in on that trend. And so we have the recent problem that Walmart Canada faced when a number of highly inappropriate Ugly Christmas Sweaters were made available for purchase on walmart.ca by one of the third-party sellers, Fun Wear, that sells its merchandise on the site.

The sweater that has caused the most uproar features a bug-eyed Santa Claus in front of a table with three lines of a white substance, with the words “Let It Snow” below. Okay, so not great. But then it gets way worse.

https://twitter.com/HurrbaSousJohn/status/1203353309396029440?

Unfortunately for Walmart, this is more than an embarrassment for selling something tacky and enduring some snickering from the Internet. The product description, partially seen in the tweet above, is particularly problematic:

“We all know how snow works. It’s white, powdery and the best snow comes straight from South America. That’s bad news for jolly old St. Nick, who lives far away in the North Pole. That’s why Santa really likes to savor the moment when he gets his hands on some quality, grade A, Colombian snow. He packs it in perfect lines on his coffee table and then takes a big whiff to smell the high quality aroma of the snow. It’s exactly what he needs to get inspired for Christmas Eve.”

On Saturday, Dec. 7, Walmart Canada removed the product, and issued an apology. A spokesperson provided the following quote to Business Insider:

“These sweaters, sold by a third-party seller on Walmart.ca (our website in Canada), do not represent Walmart’s values and have no place on our website. We have removed these products from our marketplace. We apologize for any unintended offense this may have caused. These sweaters were not offered on Walmart.com in the US.”

Despite the removal of the product and the apology, the reference of “Colombian snow” has the National Agency for the Legal Defense of the State in Colombia prepared to sue. According to the Washington Post and El Tiempo, on Dec. 10 the agency stated that Walmart’s apology about the product from a third-party seller on Walmart.ca was not enough. Agency director Camilo Gómez Alzate provided this statement to El Tiempo, reported by the Washington Post:

“The Walmart sweater is an offense to the country. It generates damage to the legal products of Colombia and damage to the country’s reputation. Although Walmart apologized, the damage was done.”

So the lesson to be learned here: third-party sellers may expand the amount of business you do and the revenue you pull in, but you can’t always trust that their products will be in line with your company’s values. This was not the only Ugly Christmas Sweater that Fun Wear had up on Walmart Canada’s site … and the majority of them were in rather poor taste.

While Walmart may have policies in place to limit undesirable products from third-party sellers, it’s clear these policies are either difficult to enforce or they’re not being enforced. The consequence of losing customers over this is one thing, but having Colombia’s National Agency for the Legal Defense of the State sue if appropriate reparations aren’t made is an even bigger problem for the retailer.

What do you think marketers? Is it worth it to have third-party sellers offer their products on your sites, checked or unchecked, or are issues like this enough of a reason to avoid third-party relationships? Oh, and yes, Amazon is selling products with similar and identical designs.

 

Developing Technology Standards to Support Privacy Regulations of the Future

Advertising has played a vital role in the Internet’s mass adoption. But, as the industry evolved, consumer privacy took a back seat. Today’s technologies provide an opportunity to rebuild the digital advertising infrastructure to benefit publishers, brands, and consumers — and build in privacy, from the ground up.

Advertising has played a vital role in the internet’s mass adoption, but as the industry evolved, consumer privacy took a back seat.

Consumer privacy became a national conversation after Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm used by the Trump campaign, was able to obtain raw data harvested from up to 87 million Facebook profiles and use it to segment and target users in ways that critics argue amounts to voter manipulation.

Since then, congressional committees and governmental agencies have expanded investigations into Facebook, Google, and other ad tech industry players. GDPR came to the US in the form of CCPA, the California Consumer Privacy Act, a law designed to give consumers similar power over the data they generate online.

Our industry is now struggling to prove to both consumers and regulators that we can be trusted with their data, but there’s hope. Cutting-edge technologies provide an opportunity to rebuild the digital advertising infrastructure to benefit publishers, brands, and consumers — and build in privacy, from the ground up.

The First Step: Joining Forces

Cryptography and blockchain have already emerged as solutions for adding verification and validation layers that ensure accountability and efficiency in the media supply chain. But the only way to drive adoption of these forward-thinking solutions and solve for consumer privacy is by bringing together key stakeholders in the industry, educating them on the benefits and developing the technical standards that will create the change the industry needs.

“I knew blockchain paired with cryptography could deliver significant change to the advertising industry,” says Adam Helfgott, CEO of MadHive and founding member of AdLedger. “I also knew it would take a concerted effort to drive adoption across such a broad landscape of stakeholders.”

Uniting brands, agencies, publishers, and technology vendors provides an open forum for collaboration, allowing the industry to express their concerns and tackle the issues head on. Advertising industry leaders like Meredith, Hershey, IPG, Publicis, and GroupM are forming working groups that release findings for broader industry education, while companies like Omnicom, MadHive, and Beachfront are already engaging in proof-of-concept projects to tackle issues like fraud, brand safety, and transparency.

So, it begs the question: Why not leverage these technologies for privacy as well?

The Privacy Solution = Privacy-by-Design

Cryptography is already being used to keep consumer data safe, at-scale, in an industry adjacent to advertising: e-commerce. Every time you buy something on your favorite website and the little green lock pops up in your browser as you type in your credit card information, cryptography is being used to protect that sensitive information.

But cryptography’s potential runs much deeper than this single application. It can provide mathematical proof for things like data provenance, while simultaneously ensuring regulatory compliance. This gives publishers the ability to secure their first-party data and thereby control access to their most precious resource – their audience. For advertisers, this immutable chain of custody and identity validation of supply-chain participants creates a brand-safe environment in which customers are reached with the right message at the right time.

The best part? Cryptography and blockchain can be baked into the underlying digital advertising infrastructure, which will automate this entire process and create a system with privacy-by-design. But the only way to integrate these technologies and drive mainstream adoption is through the unification, education, and collaboration of key industry stakeholders.

Long-term fixes take time, but the value prop for publishers and advertisers is evident. And maybe the GDPR and CCPA regulations are the push the industry needs to join forces and work toward a long-term solution.

3 Tips for Search Engine Optimization on a Budget

You do not have to break the bank to get quality SEO results. But you do need to figure out the metrics that matter when it comes to delivering a return on your investment. It is also important to temper expectations, when it comes to results. Search engine optimization typically takes longer to drive leads and sales, when compared to PPC advertising campaigns.

You do not have to break the bank to get quality SEO results. But you do need to figure out the metrics that matter when it comes to delivering a return on your investment. It is also important to temper expectations, when it comes to results. Search engine optimization typically takes longer to drive leads and sales, when compared to PPC advertising campaigns.

Getting the Most for Your Money

Let’s go over some ways that companies can make their sites SEO-friendly, without breaking the bank.

1. Get the Architecture Right

If you are going to spend money anywhere, make sure some of it goes toward building a quality website. It should have a clean design, an intuitive navigation experience, and be accessible to search engines. Menus, content, and other information should be organized in a way that makes sense and is easy to find. There are plenty of SEO-savvy developers capable of providing a new website or revamping your existing one for a reasonable price.

Google and Bing both offer free webmaster guidelines that businesses can use as a guide to creating search-friendly websites. They are an excellent resource for businesses, even if they are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of technical SEO.

2. Small Details Matter

With SEO, small details can make all of the difference in your rankings.

Here are some cost-effective ways of upgrading your website’s SEO.

  • Page Titles — Google uses the page title (aka, Title tag, or <title> in HTML) as a shortcut to know what the page is about. Think of it like the chapter name in a textbook. Include the most relevant keyword(s) you’re trying to rank for in the title so that Google knows the page is 100% relevant to those search phrases.
  • Meta Descriptions — Take the time to fill in the meta descriptions for your website content. Search engines like Google will use this as the excerpt below the hyperlink to your website. A clean, precise description can be the difference-maker in getting a visitor to click through to your site.
  • Header Tags — No one likes reading big walls of text. You could have the most amazing, enlightening content on your web pages, but no one is going to read it without proper formatting. Headers and subheaders are vital in making content easier to read and absorb. Search engines also use the headers to better understand what the page is about, so make sure to include variations of your target keywords in your page headers.

3. Use Free SEO Tools

What better way to understand how Google views SEO than by using the tools it provides? Google Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools) gives you incredible insight into your SEO, all for free! Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to evaluate your website speed and identify opportunities to improve. Plus, with Google’s move to a mobile-first Index, you’ll want to take the Mobile-Friendly Test and fix any issues right away.

For a more advanced analysis, I highly recommend the Screaming Frog SEO Spider. You’ll be able to quickly review all the pages on your website to identify issues with your page titles, descriptions, headers, and even broken links.

Final Thoughts on SEO on a Budget

Businesses can use a variety of resources to improve their SEO without breaking their budget. Improving the architecture of a website is a great place to start, because a poorly structured site will be very difficult to rank high in Google.

And pay attention to the details. Make sure your page titles, descriptions, and headers are all optimized for search engines.

Lastly, take advantage of the free tools and resources available online. Just because they are free, doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. In fact, many of the tools mentioned above are as good or even better than the paid options.

Want more tips to improve your SEO?  Click here to grab a copy of the “Ultimate SEO Checklist.”

 

Were Publishers the First DTC Brands? How 2 Areas of Marketing Align

DTC brands are hot entities. Practically any consumer product can be translated to a paid subscription business model. As a direct result, circulation and subscription marketing professionals have become very attractive new hires to the growing bevy of direct-to-consumer brands.

DTC brands are hot entities. Practically any consumer product can be translated to a paid subscription business model.

As a direct result, circulation and subscription marketing professionals — a mainstay of the direct marketing discipline for decades — have become very attractive new hires to the growing bevy of direct-to-consumer brands. In reverse, too — publishers are enriching their content offerings for their customers in service to them, acting as DTC brands, themselves.

That was a main thrust at a recent joint meeting of the Direct Marketing Club of New York and The Media and Content Marketing Association. The joint meeting, titled “What DTC Brands and Publishers Can Learn from Each Other in Today’s Subscription Economy,” allowed publishers to exchange ideas with DTC brand reps and others.

DTC brands meeting
Source: DMCNY, Twitter @dmcny | Direct-to-Consumer Brands, Publishers and their Admirers exchange perspectives around customer value and experiences.

“Magazines are the original DTC,” said Mike Schanbacher, director of growth marketing at Quip, a subscription business for toothbrushes and dental care,. He noted that traditional circulation metrics, such as lifetime value and churn rates, very much factor in the business and marketing plans of a subscription commerce company.

Alec Casey, CMO of Trusted Media Brands Inc. (TMBI, which manages 13 brands, among them Reader’s Digest), described how his business continually explores expansion of product and content — to books, book series, music and video — and potentially podcasts and subscriber boxes.

“We are always DTC,” he said, meaning that customers’ interests drive every brand extension in the company.

Data can reveal interesting patterns, he noted. Visitors to Family Handyman digital content is 50% men, 50% women, for example, while print content is dominated by men.

DTC Is High-Speed

One hallmark of the newest DTC brands is velocity.

“When bananas and avocados are sitting in the warehouse beneath you, there’s urgency,” said Tammy Barentson, CMO of Fresh Direct, who previously had had a lengthy career in publishing with Time, Meredith, Hearst, and Conde Nast. Innovations are sought for and tested constantly … and rapidly: “There’s a mindset here … ‘That bombed. What did we learn?’’ ” she said, which is a marked change from her previous publishing posts, where testing was more considered.

Barentson also noted that the Fresh Direct executive team meets every morning to listen in collectively on each department’s dashboard of metrics — and that can inspire action.

“There’s a lot I can learn from operations and customer service data,” she said. “For example, how many deliveries are made per hour might tell me geographies where I might focus more customer acquisition.” Her own team pores through subscription data — who orders groceries one, two or three times a week, or just for special events — “how do we bring them up the food chain?” she quipped.

One of the first publishers to capitalize on digital was Forbes and Forbes.com, said Nina LaFrance, who is Forbes’ lead for consumer marketing and business development. Today, the corporation’s digital sites generate 80 million unique visits per month — but it’s the drill-down on the data that is perhaps the most exciting, enabling Forbes to help advertisers connect with customers across print, digital, programmatic display, brand voice, social channels, live events, apps, webinars, and more. Forbes has its own in-house studio to help brands develop content for marketing across the portfolio.

“We adapt and embrace,” LaFrance said, responding to the all the challenges and opportunities presented to publishers and DTC brands alike — issues, such as coping with “walled gardens,” tech giants, privacy laws, data restrictions and regulations, and the Cookie Apocalypse.

Communities Are Sticky

A common theme expressed by the panel was the desire to create a sense of “membership” and “community” — going beyond the transaction to create “stickiness.” That’s where content development matters. “

At Quib, we try and give a membership feel,” Schanbacher said. “Data is the goal,” noting the better consumer understanding and insights that come from content engagement, data collection, and analysis.

However, not every piece of content translates equally to profit, LaFrance reports.

“Visitors to our home page, or who respond to direct mail, may be more profitable to us than those who link to an article from a social post,” she says — and the ability to measure that customer value across channels is a success, in its own right.

Which is probably the most valuable insight of all. These professionals — DTC brands and publishers — revere how data serves, bolsters, and builds the customer relationship, and they have all pursued a shared culture for measurement, insight, and application to build the brands, build the business, and connect to consumer experience. As subscription commerce grows — it has doubled in the past five years — we know how invaluable such data reverence can be.

Site Redesigns Don’t Always Improve Search Results

Many e-commerce sites redesign and relaunch with a new look in the fall to capture the attention of holiday shoppers. One of the stated goals of most site redesigns is the endless search for … improved search results. In this article, I’d like to provide some cautionary observations on why these efforts sometimes fail.

Many e-commerce sites redesign and relaunch with a new look in the fall to capture the attention of holiday shoppers. One of the stated goals of most site redesigns is the endless search for … improved search results. In this article, I’d like to provide some cautionary observations on why these efforts sometimes fail.

A clumsy redesign can cause a decline in search results; however, here are four less obvious reasons for inadvertent failure: Putting old wine in a new skin, larding up the optimization, rushing to judgment, and neglecting the infrastructure. Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.

Old Wine in a New Skin

It is an error to assume that simply changing the look of the site’s templates will yield improved search results. Unless there are changes in the code, a rerouting of the customer journey, and reordering of the presentation, the site has merely undergone a “reskinning” not a redesign.

If the site simply has new imagery slapped on the same old site, the old wine has been poured into a new skin.

It is the same old wine, and no improvements will ensue. It is unwise to expect improved search results when nothing has changed that directly influences what a search engine (or a customer) encounters. For improved search results, changes must be made to the elements of the site that provide search signals. If there are no changes to any of the elements that signal relevancy, Google does not really care that your site templates are a new chic color with pretty graphics.

Relevancy signals might include:

  • Improvements to the customer journey that reduce bounce rate.
  • Recoding H1s and H2s can highlight the content that is significant for search.

Since search is signals-driven, there is no reason to expect improved results — unless the signals change.

Larding up the Optimization

Just adding content is not, in itself, a winning search strategy.

Yes! Today, content is king. And content provides the most essential signal for search. Adding content that is over-optimized, larded thickly with too many keywords, and offering nothing of value, is a recipe for harming the site’s search results, not improving them.

As I have previously written, sites perform better when the content is regularly refreshed and pruned to improve the search signals. Simply adding a large volume of new content without reviewing, trimming, and pruning the existing content will not yield the improvements in search results that can be seen with the use of a more strategic approach that views each piece of content as a signal flag. A large field of jumbled flags will not provide the same clarity that fewer more prominent flags will.

Rushing to Judgment

In almost 40 years working in technology, I have hardly ever worked on a project that was completed ahead of schedule with every planned element completed. If there are elements of a redesign that will influence search, skipping past them or only partially completing the tasks invites poor results.

In my experience, it is sometimes wise to focus keen attention on those elements of the redesign that will influence search ahead of other less sensitive areas. If tradeoffs must be made, it is important to focus on the search-sensitive elements (recoding, rerouting, and strengthening the search signals) as opposed to those elements that are visual only.

Neglecting Infrastructure

Site speed and a positive mobile experience are important for search results, as well as customer interaction. Therefore, it is important to include improving site speed and the mobile experience as part of a redesign or relaunch. If it is slated for post-relaunch, the search results will not necessarily improve. Fix infrastructure first, then improve the signals, and finish with the visuals and you can expect a successful relaunch.

Don’t put old wine a new bottle, Google is a connoisseur of site content.