Competition: Another Big DC Week for Tech (Where Do We Go From Here?)

When the leaders of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google come to Washington, you know there’s going to be a lot of posturing – and it’s usually not (just) from the witnesses.

The focus this past week was the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Law rather than privacy, security, and foreign influence – topics of previous high-profile hearings. Yet the out-sized attention on these leading executives and companies – all of them U.S.-based – is actually a testament, in my humble opinion, to the power of data, information, and innovation at work advancing the American and global economy. Has this exercise and accumulation of power been benign, beneficial… or harmful?

I’ve not been shy to tout the conveniences and benefits that we’ve accrued and enjoyed as a result of responsible data use. Yet I do not dismiss an investigation of harm, unintended or otherwise. Simply, I ask that in our zeal to rein in questionable practices, let’s flash a sign to policymakers: “Handle with Care.”

The world has embraced the Information Economy. It just so happens, not by accident, that the United States has both many global leaders (four of them visiting DC) and – it must be said – a long tail of innovative companies that want to grow, prosper, and potentially join the ranks of the next big, successful data-driven entities.

As Americans, we should do all we can to recognize our own advantage, and to encourage such business ingenuity – for a better world.  Transparency, control, and civil liberties must be protected… that’s all.

There’s a part of me – with my direct marketing heritage – that’s utterly in awe of what these companies have achieved, each of them forging their own paths to business success, and doing so in a way that has cultivated and curated data – marketing and otherwise – to create in each a global powerhouse. Digital has always been “direct marketing on steroids” (please let me know who coined this phrase), and many of these companies achieved their success through a fervor for measurability and accountability.

But the question of the day – antitrust – is a very serious charge. 

Practically every business revolution in the age of capitalism – oil, banking, computing, communications, digital, among others – have had to grapple with the question, how much power is too much? What constitutes “too big” in the Information Economy? Though no one has gone there yet, could there ever be a concept in the digital world as Wall Street’s “too big to fail” – in reference to our banking giants?

I myself don’t have these answers, but I do think it’s worth looking (again) to our digital and direct marketing heritage for some guidance. Certainly any new federal laws and regulation, such as for privacy, ought to be pragmatic in their approach – rather than overly prescriptive. We have a blueprint for a federal privacy law in Privacy for America, for example, which seeks to discern reasonable from unreasonable data uses.

Some consideration, please.

  • What if we held out that data collected for marketing use should be used for marketing purposes only? What non-marketing uses – product development and design possibly – might also be acceptable?
  • Should personally identifiable data collected for marketing use ever or always be anonymized for non-marketing use? Certainly, let’s make sure we can recognize consumers as they jump from device to device and across digital and offline platforms, if for no other reason than marketing or fraud prevention purposes. These aims grow the economy, serve consumers, and finance vital social aims such as news reporting.
  • Under what circumstances should private-sector data be handed over to government sources? What legal protections should govern such handovers – subpoenas and otherwise? It’s a borderless world. What access should foreign governments have to such data, about U.S. citizens or from other jurisdictions? It’s a fine line – or even a fuzzy blur – between anti-terrorism and unwanted surveillance of ordinary people.
  • And of course, there’s anti-competition. Data enablement and data sharing should grow the economy, foster competition, and serve consumers. Laws – whether anti-competition or privacy – should seek the same, and not undermine innovation. For example, the current demonization of third-party data feeds a frenzy that concentrates first-party data collection and power in “walled gardens” – where knowledge about customers’ marketing preferences often becomes incomplete and clouded. Could policymakers use their pen unwittingly to diminish the long tail of ad tech to detrimental effects? Even (some) Europeans have questioned what they’ve done.

As far as bias is concerned, add my voice to those who wish to do our utmost to minimize and eliminate protected-class discrimination in our algorithms and artificial intelligence – gender, race, religion, sexual preference – as we practice the art and science of commerce.

All the same, I have deep sympathy for this same task regarding political free speech: when and how we would ever attempt to define and remove political bias is dangerous territory. What is a lie? What is hate speech? What is a conservative or liberal bias?

There are no easy answers here. But I look forward to this public investigation, all the same. We need to understand fully where the Information Economy may overstep, overreach, restrict free speech, or undermine competition – even if these grievances are found to be remote.

How to Integrate AI Tech Into Each Step of the Customer Journey

The Customer Lifecycle. The Sales Funnel. The Buyer’s Journey. All of these phrases are similar expressions of the same thing. They’re used to describe the process that it takes for a visitor to become a customer.

The Customer Lifecycle. The Sales Funnel. The Buyer’s Journey. All of these phrases are similar expressions of the same thing. They’re used to describe the process that it takes for a visitor to become a customer.

While the models and names of stages may have changed through the years, many agree that it can be boiled down to four simple components:

Awareness > Consideration > Decision > Loyalty

The No. 1 goal for most businesses is to generate more conversions (which primarily consists of sales). This can be through their marketing efforts, sales tactics, brand communication, conversion rate optimization, and other methods. Of late, many companies have developed critical competencies in using AI to nudge customers towards sales, and have improved their numbers drastically as a result.

AI, machine learning, and big data technology can all work hand-in-hand to improve the customer experience and support an optimized customer journey, which leads to more conversions in several key ways.

Let’s talk about how you can start using AI tech in each stage of the funnel.

Awareness

Marketing strategies these days are often heavily focused on the top of the funnel to build brand awareness and attract new customers. For many businesses, recognition is nearly equivalent to the value of their brand. Elena Veselinova and Marija Gogova Samonikov explain in their book Building Brand Equity and Consumer Trust Through Radical Transparency Practices that brand impact is a continuous process that insures purchases, cash flow, revenue and share value. Brand communication and experience creates and builds a loyal base of customers that do not consider any other brand.

Creating a strong level of brand awareness takes time and strategy. Companies spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns and advertising to increase their reach and recognition, but AI tech is able to take the guesswork out of these strategies by analyzing huge volumes of consumer data for more targeted campaigns. For example, predictive analytics software can collect, track, and analyze datasets from past customers to determine which strategies or tactics performed well. These datasets are turned into reports with insights to guide marketing efforts and place relevant content in front of the most interested eyes at the right times.

With AI-assisted marketing, advertising strategies can be backed with data to optimize ad placement. Machine learning systems can even identify the best influencers for brands to partner with in order to reach relevant audiences and grow brand familiarity.

Credit: Venturebeat.com

Consideration

The next step of the buyer’s journey is often overlooked by marketers because it can drag on for a long time, depending on the product and the customer’s needs. During the consideration phase, a customer is already familiar with a brand or product but are unsure of whether or not to actually purchase. Customers will typically research the product’s reviews, compare prices to competitors, and look for alternatives during this stage. Due to this, the number of potential customers tends to narrow down considerably as they move from this step to the decision phase.

Brands must work to combat each customer’s concerns and questions standing in the way of a purchase decision. One of the best ways to do this is by offering personalized content that is relevant to each person, making it easy for them to find the information they are seeking.

AI systems can be used to predict a customer’s needs based on consumer data and previous online behavior, and then encourage conversions with a tailored UX or even a completely customized landing page that displays content relevant to that customer.

For example, if a site visitor has viewed a certain product page and played a video demonstrating its features, these actions can trigger an AI system to target them with personalized content that prompts a conversion if they don’t proceed to buy immediately. This content could be something as simple as an email message with more information or a display ad with a special offer for the specific product.

Credit: Personyze.com

Then there are platforms that use conversational AI tech (such as chatbots and voice assistants) to power automated, text- or audio-based interactions between a business and its customers. These platforms can understand speech, decipher intent, differentiate between languages, and mimic human conversations with great accuracy. Increasingly, they are advanced enough to even understand individual context and personalize the conversation accordingly.

Based on data insights, AI tech can curate content that matches up with the issues that are most important to that person, whether it be product features, immediate delivery, long term savings, etc. Customers respond quite well to personalized offers — an Accenture study reported that 91% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a company that sent them targeted deals or recommendations.

Decision

Once a customer moves from consideration to action, AI tools can be used to support a positive sales experience and eliminate any bumps along the way. If a customer encounters an issue while browsing the site, or during checkout or payment, it could be an instant sales killer, if it isn’t handled immediately by something like live chat.

According to multiple studies, one of the most frustrating parts about online customer service is long wait times. By using AI-enabled chatbots, companies can instantly answer common questions and resolve issues or roadblocks affecting the progression of the buyer’s journey. And customers certainly appreciate these quick response times. AI systems can significantly increase conversions with effective personalization and swift customer service.

Credit: AIMultiple.com

Loyalty

The last step of the customer journey is possibly the most valuable. Over half of customers reportedly stay loyal to brands that “get them.” Returning customers also tend to spend more money than new ones, and an oft-reported stat says that on average 65% of businesses’ revenue comes from existing customers.

Businesses (and customers) can benefit greatly from loyalty programs that are backed with machine learning technology. Starbucks famously uses AI tech to analyze customer behavior, improve convenience, and identify which promotions would perform best based on that person’s drink or food preferences, location, and purchase frequency. Their loyalty program uses this data to send out thousands of offers each day for the products their customers are most likely to buy. Their customer loyalty program grew 16% YoY last year as a direct result of their Deep Brew AI engine.

Credit: Starbucks app

While a positive shopping experience and great products are certainly important factors in a customer’s decision to buy again, data-driven marketing campaigns that encourage loyalty can also help a company to grow their numbers of repeat sales. Again, AI-assisted personalization techniques can boost the chances of a customer coming back for more, especially if they receive targeted offers or shopping suggestions based on previous interactions.

Credit: Accenture.com

The Wrap

AI is proving to be the tool of the future for marketers. It allows marketing teams to use predictive insights and analytical data to encourage and assist every micro-decision taken by consumers. AI systems not only help customers move along the buyer’s journey, they can also provide a more meaningful experience along the way, leading to more conversions and brand loyalty down the road.

Rising Above the ‘Noise’ of Digital Marketing With Direct Mail

As marketers, we have to ask ourselves how much “noise” we will be required to make to have our offerings heard against this cacophony of messages and how much our customers and prospects are willing to tolerate?

Remember in the 1960s when a direct mail campaign of a million pieces was a dream, but it was unlikely that even by combining house names, rentals, and trades, you could get your hands on that many names? (We hadn’t yet begun to call them data files or databases.)

And did you know what the abbreviations MM or M; B or Bn or Bil; T or Tn stood for? And if you did or could guess, it’s doubtful you could attach a specific number of zeros to each of them?

Things were quieter then, something like the quiet we have recently been experiencing in whole or partial lockdown. Admittedly, back then it was nice to hear the blare of trumpets on the Fourth of July holiday when the local brass band paraded through town, much nicer than the blasting sound of today’s boom boxes at full decibels. But paraphrasing the old saw, silence was golden.

Accepting that we are entering a totally different marketplace than any of us have experienced, it is fair to say that it is likely to be more boom box than brass band. According to the “Wall Street Journal,” WPP is forecasting “Political ad spending will total $9.9 billion in 2020…. up from $6.3 billion in 2016, when President Trump was elected.” That’s “B or Bn or Bil.” The same article projects the digital portion at “$2.8 billion, or 2.2% of total digital ad spending.”

If the spend was evenly divided among the 153.07 million registered voters, that would provide $6.53 each. But as we know, only about 30% of these, 9.5 million, are what are said by FiveThirtyEight to be potential swing voters and, if the spend was divided equally among them, it would allow $21.78 to bombard each of them with “electoral noise.”

As marketers, we have to ask ourselves how much “noise” we will be required to make to have our offerings heard against this cacophony of messages and how much our customers and prospects are willing to tolerate? We will need to contemplate whether the answer will be as T.S. Eliot wrote of the end of the world in “The Hollow Men”: “Not with a bang but a whimper.”

This may be one of the reasons why — along with the fragile and uncertain future of the U.S. Postal Service — so much recent interest has been generated by the resurgence of direct mail as a serious participant in the marketing mix.

Instead of being denigrated as “snail” (or worse) “junk” mail, the quiet “whimper” of a well-conceived and directed mailing, delivered in the mailbox, may single itself out and have greater impact than yet another loud explosion in the endless digital war for attention in the inbox.

Imagine Express put it succinctly:

“Direct mail provides companies with the commodity of time — time to communicate the message effectively, convey emotions and convert the customer.”

The “commodity of time” is often the secret asset missing from our frenzied marketing activities. It is so much faster, easier, even seemingly cheaper to fashion promotions for social media and digital than to weigh and choose all the interesting new options for direct mail, that this path of least resistance is the one chosen.

But wouldn’t be a good idea, especially now that we are emerging into new era, to revisit the past successes of direct mail as a major generator of leads, sales, and profits, and determine whether mail might make our messages raise above all the noise?

The Importance of Always Having a Solid Email Marketing Program

As we all adjust to what may be our new normal, digital marketing becomes ever more vital. Now is not the time to go dark, even if you can’t meet with prospects and partners face-to-face as you normally do. Email marketing should already be a part of your digital arsenal.

As we all adjust to what may be our new normal, digital marketing becomes ever more vital. Now is not the time to go dark, even if you can’t meet with prospects and partners face-to-face as you normally do. A solid email marketing program should always be a part of your digital arsenal, no matter what’s going on in the world.

Email Marketing Keeps You Top of Mind

We’ve all found those prospects who are a perfect fit in every way — except they’re not ready to buy. Sometimes it’s a priorities issue. In other cases, it’s a mismatch between need and budget cycle.

When you find those prospects, stay in touch via email until their need becomes pressing enough to push those other issues aside. Nothing beats email when it comes to drip marketing.

Email Messages Are Easy to Personalize

No, we’re not talking about “Dear [your name here],” though that certainly is one type of personalization. We’re talking about a more meaningful way to connect with your audience by tailoring email to their interests. These can be self-identified or based on past behavior. You can do this on your website, too, though doing it with your email marketing is usually a little easier to wrangle. Getting your email and your website to work together this way is even better. Which is an excellent segue to our next point.

Email Is the Great Connector

Email doesn’t just connect you to your target audience. It connects various pieces of your marketing tool kit. Email can introduce prospects to your social media presence and vice versa, allowing you to meet them where they already are. Well-executed email marketing efforts can drive traffic to your website, which is likely where the conversion from possibility to prospect occurs. In both cases email is improving not only your reach but your engagement.

You Own Email

Social media channels can fall out of favor in the blink of an eye. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest meaningfully in those platforms that work best with our audience. But those “borrowed” platforms should not be more than a part of our overall strategy. Owning email marketing means never having to worry about what social network will fizzle or when the next search engine algorithm update might upend years of SEO gains. (Well, we still have to worry about these things, but we don’t have to worry about them being catastrophic to our marketing.)

The key to all of this email magic is relevance. No surprise there. That’s the key to all marketing today, traditional or digital. If you want to reap the benefits of email marketing’s power, don’t show up in someone’s inbox just to show up. Have something relevant to say that they want to hear.

 

Are You Taking a 360 Degree View of Content Marketing?

Creating content that relates to customers and builds engagement has consistently been the top challenge for marketing departments. Many marketers feel like they’re just shooting in the dark in terms of content marketing — sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Creating content that relates to customers and builds engagement has consistently been the top challenge for marketing departments. Many marketers feel like they’re just shooting in the dark in terms of content marketing — sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This is especially true for teams that are trying to increase sales by building brand authority in their industry.

So here are some critical questions that CMOs and content managers can ask themselves to determine if their strategy is on the right track, confirm whether they’re sticking to the fundamentals and make sure they aren’t making any obvious mistakes.

Is Your Messaging in Tune With Industry Buzz?

Keeping your company’s marketing content relevant and interesting doesn’t mean that you should pursue every trend that passes by. However, that doesn’t mean you can simply dismiss all of them either. Content must either be unique or refer to current events fresh in people’s minds in order to keep their attention, regardless of how informative it is. By keeping up with the latest news and updates specific to your industry or niche, you could be one of the first outlets to provide an opinion on them.

Great content marketing and SEO go hand-in-hand, so in order to make your content seen and heard, it must include the terms, slang and even jargon that might draw in relevant audiences. By keeping up with the latest conversations and expressions being thrown around, you can tweak your content to identify more closely with your target audience.

Google’s Trends tool can help you monitor the keywords and topics being searched for and discussed online. It also shows you the volume of these searches and how fast interest in a given topic is rising or waning.

Credit: Trends.Google.com

Don’t just latch on to any topic that is trending in your area of reference. Be sure that it is relevant to an audience in your niche and that you understand what it is all about, and are able to share insights or at least use it in an entertaining way

Once you find the kind of themes and issues that your pique your audience’s interests, you can nail down a direction and certain ideas around which to build your brand messaging.

Are You Letting Your Audience Guide Your Content Strategy?

In order to let your audience and customers drive your ideation and approach, you must make sure you know them through and through, so that you can create the most relevant and engaging content. This is best done by formulating audience personas to help get into the mind of your typical consumer. You will need to delve deep into the demographics and analytical data to create generalizations about the type of people that follow your brand.

  • What do they look like?
  • How do they speak?
  • What buzzwords are they familiar with?
  • Where and how do they consume content?
  • What industries do they work in?

Create multiple personas. These generalities can then be used to guide content by focusing on the subjects that would likely appeal to these different personas. For example, Customer A may be more interested in the nitty-gritty details of your industry, while Customer B might be more interested in learning practical ways to use your products or services. Customer A might place a premium on your brand experience while Customer B might just be looking for the cheapest product around.

Credit: Hop.online

Perhaps the most important ingredient to a fresh content strategy is simply knowing who you are communicating with and how to do so effectively.

Are You Analyzing Visitor Behavior on Your Website to Understand Intent?

The role of big data in content marketing cannot be underestimated. To stay competitive, businesses and marketers need to understand that they’re operating in a competitive environment that needs constant adjusting and optimization. Whenever a landing page is tied to a piece of content, blog post, email or even social media update, you need to know exactly how it performs in relation to your goals.

Before you even begin designing or optimizing your landing page, you must first ask yourself: why are customers coming to this specific page? What do they intend to get out of it and what are they looking for?

Marketers need not wait for coders or designers to develop or customize a landing page. Tools such as Landingi offer easy ways to add a quick page with forms, text boxes, drop downs, buttons and other elements to help you optimize your marketing funnel and automate the user workflow on your site.

Take a sign up page for example. You can easily create a form to gather information that tells you more about your audience. This can as simple as their location, most pressing concern, or how they discovered your brand. Using this data, you can refine your sales approach in a way that resonates with current or potential leads.

Remember that the intent of visitors is not always (read, almost never) to purchase. On the contrary, the majority of your first-time visitors will be looking for information on what your company or product does, how much it costs, and so on. You need to create exact content so that each landing page fulfills a specific purpose.

One great place to start is by answering common questions that visitors are asking. You can find these through intent-based keyword research for more general topics or you can address issues that customers frequently raise with your support or service team.

Kapost used this strategy to great effect by sharing information directly from their sales and customer service team’s conversations with their marketing department. Their content team then created specific pages for these questions so that future customers could instantly find this information and they could create more relevant landing pages.

Credit: Kapost.com

You can also experiment with different variations of your landing pages through split testing. Consistently testing components like style, copy, and CTA buttons will give you plenty of data-backed insights as to what makes your audience tick.

Are You Using Events and Experiences to Create Content?

Your business events can provide a plethora of valuable inspiration that can be used and reused to support a sustainable content marketing strategy. You can also use these insights in future promotions with value-based messaging.

Ecommerce platform Shopify teamed up with Kylie Jenner to promote her temporary pop-up shop as well as their retail POS system. While there was a lot of marketing buzz promoting Kylie Cosmetics during the event, Shopify pulled the online equivalent of a guerilla marketing stunt by telling the story to their customers through their blog.

They published a post talking about all that goes into the planning of offline experiences for online businesses and the power it has. They even shared some behind-the-scenes pictures and details about Kylie’s store. The story was by no means blatantly promotional, but instead it had some real-life applications and valuable insights for retail business owners – Shopify’s core audience.

Credit: Shopify.com

Don’t be fooled. The entire piece was marketing content for their own company. Shopify used the event as an opportunity to mention their new POS system that Kylie Cosmetic used in order to handle all of the transactions during the pop-up. They even snapped a photo of Kylie herself using the system.

By turning a business event into marketing content, you can not only provide your audience with great information and examples, you can also promote your product’s usefulness through effective storytelling.

While statistics and numbers are great for proving points and communicating research, studies have found that when content tells an actual story and provides a practical application, it resonates far more with audiences and produces better results, eventually boosting conversion rates in the process.

Over to You

Consumers are more than an accumulation of facts and figures; and so must be your marketing strategies. There is so much pressure in the marketing world to deliver sales, to come out with the most innovative, creative, and unique strategies that marketers have lost focus on what is truly important: the customer experience.

Through content marketing, organizations are now able to build real connections with their customers as well as a larger audience in a way that was never before possible. The best content marketing strategies don’t necessarily depend on budgets or technology; they’re tied to brand-customer relationships.

As a marketer, it your job to empower your brand to build these relationships and facilitate experiences that bring positive results. The best way to do this is to give customers information that they can actually use – and make sure they use it!

What Did You Do on Data Privacy Day 2020? Do Tell Us.

Each year, Jan. 28 is known as “Data Privacy Day” in the United States and globally — also Data Protection Day in other jurisdictions. As business organizations — and marketers — we see that it’s a day when consumers are reminded to exercise their “privacy rights.”

Each year, Jan. 28 is known as “Data Privacy Day” in the United States and globally — also Data Protection Day in other jurisdictions.

As business organizations — and marketers — we see that it’s a day when consumers are reminded to exercise their “privacy rights” and take advantage of tips and tricks for safeguarding their privacy and security. In our world of marketing, there are quite a few self-regulatory and co-regulatory tools (U.S. focus here) that enable choices and opt-outs:

  • To opt out of commercial email, direct mail, and telemarketing in certain states, consumers can avail themselves of DMAchoice. For telemarketing, they can also enroll on the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call database.
  • For data collected online for interest-based ads, consumers can take advantage of Digital Advertising Alliance’s WebChoices and Network Advertising Initiative consumer control tools, which are accessible via the ubiquitous “AdChoices” icon. DAA also offers AppChoices, where data is collected across apps for interest-based ads. [Disclosure: DAA is a client.]
  • Now that California has a new consumer privacy law, consumers there can also take advantage of DAA’s new “Do-Not-Sell My Personal Information” Opt Out Tool for the Web. Its AppChoices mobile app also has a new CCPA opt-out component for “do not sell.” Publishers all over the Web are placing “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” notices in their footers, even if others outside California can see them, and offering links to their own in-house suppression lists, as well as DAA’s. Some publishers are using new the Privacy Rights icon to accompany these notices.

Certainly, businesses need to be using all of these tools — either as participants, or as subscribers — for the media channels where they collect, analyze, and use personal and anonymized data for targeted marketing. There’s no reason for not participating in these industry initiatives to honor consumer’s opt-out choices, unless we wish to invite more prescriptive laws and regulations.

We are constantly reminded that consumers demand high privacy and high security — and they do. We also are reminded that they prefer personalized experiences, relevant messaging, and wish to be recognized as customers as they go from device to device, and across the media landscape. Sometimes, these objectives may seem to be in conflict … but they really are not. Both objectives are good business sense.

As The Winterberry’s Group Bruce Biegel reported while presenting his Annual Outlook for media in 2020 (opens as a PDF), the U.S. data marketplace remains alive and well. For data providers, the onus is to show where consumer permissions are properly sourced, and transparency is fully authenticated and demonstrated to consumers in the data-gathering process. It’s a rush to quality. Plainly stated, adherence to industry data codes and principles (DAA, NAI, Interactive Advertising Bureau, Association of National Advertisers, among others) are table stakes. Going above and beyond laws and ethics codes are business decisions that may provide a competitive edge.

So what did I do on Data Privacy Day 2020? You’re reading it!  Share with me any efforts you may have taken on that day in the “public” comments below.

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.”

 

Flash — It’s Gone: In 2020, Google Search Will Ignore Adobe Flash

When it first launched, Flash was the answer to a static Web, providing rich animation and action. Flash was eagerly welcomed and embraced by Web developers and users. It grew so popular that the Adobe Flash Player runtime, which lets users play Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013.

When it first launched, Flash was the answer to a static Web, providing rich animation and action. Flash was eagerly welcomed and embraced by Web developers and users. It grew so popular that the Adobe Flash Player runtime, which lets users play Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013, with 300 million installations on Android and iOS alone.

Even with this huge popularity, Flash is going to be gone by the end of 2020, replaced by new, faster, more efficient, and secure open standards development technologies, such as HTML5. These newer technologies are more search-friendly than Flash, which required significant efforts to ensure successful indexing.

The lifespan of webpages in search does not neatly coincide with corporate end-of-life announcements for support of specific technologies; therefore, Google’s Oct. 28, 2019, announcement is noteworthy. It says that later this year, Google Search will stop supporting Flash content, will begin ignoring it for search, and will stop indexing standalone SWF files.

Flash Has Burned Out Slowly

In July 2017, Adobe announced that it would no longer be updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020, and has been actively encouraging content creators to migrate their existing Flash content to the new open formats.

Browser developers have been sunsetting their support for Flash content, forcing users into elaborate workarounds to view Flash content. For example, Microsoft Edge, FireFox 69, and Chrome Version 76 launched in July 2019, and have — by default — disabled Flash.

However, a large volume of Flash content remains on the Web.

In the search-related announcement, Google blithely noted that “Most users and websites won’t see any impact from this change.” I would like to suggest that, as they say in the auto industry, mileage may vary.

How to Check for Search Impact?

Many large sites have thousands of pages, a volume containing valueless antiques. They are in the company’s digital attic. These treasure troves of forgotten content are often the product of unredirected orphaned initiatives.

Did your site once have a little Flash game or a Flash-powered carousel?

These once loved, but now forgotten, pages may still be in the Google index. To ensure that you indeed see no impact from the end of Flash, run a quick check for Flash files on your site. If you have converted all of your content to new technologies, you can still not rest. Just run a check for Flash files from your site that may be in Google. If you do not find any, then enjoy the ride.

If you still have Flash content, you need to convert it to a newer technology. Don’t just use an online converter. These are not necessarily secure. If the file is worthy, redevelop it or make sure that it is properly redirected.

Have We Ruined 1:1 Marketing? How the Corner Grocer Became a Creepy Intruder

When Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote “The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time” in 1993, the Internet was a mere twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. But direct marketers felt excited about 1:1 marketing, and even vindicated.

When Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote “The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time” in 1993, the Internet was a mere twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. But direct marketers felt excited, and even vindicated, about the promise of a future where data-driven personalization would deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time.

But now that it’s here, are consumers happy with it?

Recently, I had the students in my direct marketing course at Rutgers School of Business read the introduction to “The Complete Database Marketer” by Arthur Hughes, which was published in 1996 when only 22% of people in the U.S. had Internet access. In the intro entitled “The Corner Grocer,” Hughes explains how database marketing can connect marketers with their customers with the same personal touch that the corner grocer had by knowing all of his customers’ names, family members, and usual purchases.

The students then had to compare the 1996 version of database marketing, as described by Hughes, with the current state of online direct/database marketing, where data collection has been enabled by e-commerce, social media, and search engine marketing.

  • What marketing innovations has technology enabled that didn’t exist before?
  • How has online marketing enhanced the concept of database marketing?
  • How have new marketing techniques and technologies changed consumer behavior?
  • How has social media affected direct/data-driven marketing for the marketer and the consumer?
  • What are some of the fundamental differences between the challenges and opportunities that today’s online marketers face vs. those that the 1996 database marketer faced?

Most of these digital natives were born after Hughes’s book was published. The students experience digital marketing every day, and they’ve seen it evolve over their lifetimes. While they concede that the targeted ads they experience are usually relevant, several of them noted that they don’t feel they have been marketed to as individuals; but rather, as a member of a group that was assigned to receive a specific digital advertisement by an algorithm. They felt that the idealized world of database marketing that Hughes described in 1996 was actually more personal than the advanced algorithmic targeting that delivers ads to their social media feeds. Hughes told the tale of Sally Warner and her relationship with the St. Paul’s Luggage Company that started with returning a warranty card and progressed with a series of direct mail and telemarketing. For example, knowing that Sally Warner had a college-bound son, St. Paul’s sent a letter suggesting luggage as a graduation gift. Hughes describes the concept of database marketing:

“Every contact with the customer will be an opportunity to collect more data about the customer. This data will be used to build knowledge about the customer. The knowledge will be used to drive strategy leading to practical, directly personal, long-term relationships, which produce sales. The sales, in turn, will yield more data which will start the process all over again.”

But Arthur couldn’t foresee the data collection capabilities of Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Amazon. Instead of the friendly corner grocer, database marketers have become a creepy intruder. How else could an ad for a product my wife had searched for at Amazon on her laptop generate an ad for the same product in my Instagram feed? (Alright, I will concede that we use the same Amazon Prime membership, but really?) We don’t have a smart speaker in the house, and I dread to think about how much creepier it could become if we did.

Recently, while visiting someone who has a Google Home assistant, I asked about the level of spying they experienced in exchange for the convenience of having voice-activated control over their household lights and appliances. They responded by asking, “Google, are you spying on us?”

The smart speaker replied, “I don’t know how to answer that question.”

Have we ruined 1:1 marketing?

Do you know how to answer that question? Tell me.

10 Key Considerations for Programmatic Partner Selection

The concept of in-housing programmatic advertising is alluring. After all, it removes the middle-man and increases the revenue earned on every buy. But, in-housing programmatic comes with often-times insurmountable obstacles related to tech and staffing. That’s why a partnership approach is typically the most advantageous and offers the quickest route to market.

Editor’s Note: While this article directly addresses publishers, the key considerations offered in regard to successfully selecting a programmatic partner are also relevant to marketers.

As publishers seek deeper efficiencies to maximize digital revenue, the concept of in-housing programmatic advertising is alluring. After all, it removes the middle-man and increases the revenue earned on every buy.

But, in-housing programmatic comes with often-times insurmountable obstacles related to tech and staffing. That’s why a partnership approach is typically the most advantageous and offers the quickest route to market.

Teaming with a programmatic partner to help you monetize your audience niche and data, however, can be risky. Every vendor has a fantastic story to tell and appears to offer not just the moon you requested, but the rest of the solar system, as well.

With that in mind, here are the 10 key areas to assess ahead of time to put yourself in the best position for success when selecting a programmatic partner.

1. Data

A strong vendor really has to be able to on-board first-party data with a decent audience match rate (around 30% or higher). You can also create actionable first-party audience segments through a vendor by adding a pixel to your site. Your own data is the best route for targeting, so the vendor should help you extract value from it.

Does the potential partner bring any strong second-party or third-party data sets? This is the data they can bring to you to supplement what you know about your target audience. First-party data is great for reaching your customers, but to stand out in more competitive verticals, you need as much actionable data as you can find.

Finally, can the partner on-board and overlay key data sets to enhance the industry-specific data you and they already use? Data sets around “propensity to buy consumer goods online” or “avid hunter” or “discount shopper” can help you profile (and message) prospects in new and meaningful ways.

2. Products

Once you know you can reach the right audience, you need to be supported in as many digital manners as possible. Most vendors can deliver various sized banner advertisements, but programmatic has grown up quickly. Consider mobile banners, native, video, YouTube, Google Display Network, audio, over-the-top video, and digital out-of-home as ways to reach your audience now and into the future. Many ask which product reaches the most members of their intended audience. The answer you want to hear is the combination. The more options you give your customers, the more you can sell.

3. Transparency

Programmatic inventory is a murky world of liars, cheaters, and crooks. You can deploy all the software in the world to protect yourself once you have launched a campaign, but partnering with those who drag you into the muck leaves you showering with hogs.

Find out ahead of time where the messaging will appear and how the costs break down. Make sure you are hooking in with the major players in the programmatic space for inventory.

Of critical importance is your comfort level with their battle against fraud and zero-value impressions. You need to know if your partners embrace (or, better yet, actively deploy on your behalf) third-party firms like Integral Ad Science, White Ops, and Moat. Discomfort with the industry’s watchdogs would be a pretty bad sign.

4. Inventory Scale

Strong data, using an array of digital methods, and pulling inventory from the major players should result in scalable inventory. However, if the scale is too good to be true, it is. Millions of impressions in a month against a segment that has only a few hundred people in it is not a home run, it’s sketchy.

5. Minimums

There are some wonderful offerings on the market that might change the world, but they are geared for consumers and don’t help in the B2B setting. If the minimums are high, the partner is showing they may not be in the business for your business.

6. Price

The cost paid to the vendors will ultimately determine your own pricing and ROI. If the cost from the partner is substantial, it might price you out of the market. Additionally, you will be paying significantly more for more niche inventory, like audio and out-of-home.

Let the costs make sense for your business, but not guide the decision-making process. Dollar-store prices in the programmatic space could put your business and client relationships in jeopardy quickly.

7. Service

Without campaign performance metrics, much of your determination will come from corporate websites and sell sheets. Anyone can sound good on paper and pixels, but how does the vendor respond? Are they responsive and informed? Interacting with others on the team (outside of the sales professional fronting the eventual deal) can be a good indicator of quality. Confusion often means trouble.

8. Speed

While speed and service often go hand-in-hand, the important speed here is from creative/tag delivery to impression delivery. With a good amount of setup ahead of time, you should be able to launch relatively quickly … within 24 hours or so. Waiting a week or more is bad service or depicts trouble within their internal operation or tech stack. Potential partners should offer some level of guarantee that if you have an emergency deal that needs to launch ASAP, they can move mountains and get it up quickly.

9. Past Performance

It is fair to request past performance metrics, but know that most will not be able to compare apples to apples or show what is often proprietary data. If benchmarks are available, first seek average click-through rates, viewability by position/tactic, and fraud percentage.

10. Other Partners

Get a client list from the potential programmatic partner and check it out. Ask around with a few industry friends. If the vendor is new to your industry, you might just ask others offering programmatic services. They are likely to know about the new vendor in question and will at least tell you their faults.

These items are important because you may not know if you have a good or bad partner until the first few months of campaigns have delivered (or not delivered). In the fast-changing world of programmatic advertising, a few months is an eternity — and your business could be sunk before you know it.