But Your Data Is Fine, Trust Me …

Data … that great big, hairy gorilla in marketing departments all across the globe. We have Legacy Data, Subscriber Data, Third-Party Data, Business Data, Personal Data, Master Data, Sales Data, Reference Data, Privacy Data, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Now, during the last few years, the latest and greatest—Big Data and its cousin SoMoBi (SocialMobileBig) data have entered the fray enough to make everyone’s head spin.

Data … that great big, hairy gorilla in marketing departments all across the globe. We have Legacy Data, Subscriber Data, Third-Party Data, Business Data, Personal Data, Master Data, Sales Data, Reference Data, Privacy Data, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Now, during the last few years, the latest and greatest—Big Data and its cousin SoMoBi (SocialMobileBig) data have entered the fray enough to make everyone’s head spin.

No matter what you want to call it though, it just boils down to simple information. Information all you marketers crave. Information about your customer, your prospects, your products, your competitors and the trends that will steer you to hitting those numbers in the next and future fiscal quarters.

There is just so much of it, you say? No one here knows what to do with it, I hear? Every department controls a piece of it and refuses to share, is the excuse?

Maybe true. But, with a little time, effort and—of course—some of those ever-scarce budget dollars, you can create an environment where the grain can be separated from the chaff to build a healthy and robust universal silo of data which will benefit and streamline the efforts of every area of your organization efficiently and profitably.

There is no cookie-cutter data model for the business needs of every organization, despite the host of plug-and-play database tools and marketing automation processes available today. The information that makes your business research and marketing program successful is likely to be much different from what works for even your closest competitor.

At the core, your primary contact data for customers and prospects needs to be acquired and maintained as strictly as possible. My good friend, Bernice Grossman, along with fellow direct marketing legend Ruth Stevens, have a whitepaper I always refer to when providing guidance to anyone striving to establish or reorganize the variety of information that quickly begins to accumulate from different sources, in multiple disparate formats. Written as a guide for B-to-B organizations, the reasons and methodologies hold true for B-to-C. Even with the changes in data availability and the explosive growth of social data availability in the industry during the last few years, the white paper addresses the core data requirements for contact and communication.

Outside of the core basics of data needed to contact, track and segment your data pool, determining exactly what it is that gives you the edge is Priority One in deciding what else you must have available to make decisions. In every conversation or discovery session around data and database design within a CRM, the persistent desire that comes up is wanting a “full 360-degree view of my customers.” While that is possible with simply the basic contact information you have as the core of your data, along with whatever historical transactions available to provide RFM, most users expect a much deeper dive. At the more extreme illustration of designing your data around the optimal user experience, you have this infographic from Visual.ly that has been making the social media rounds. While extensive, the many comments on the sites where it has been posted point to even more data sources being needed to be all-encompassing.

If you, and your business goals, are like most, your time and budget is more likely going to place your need somewhere between the most basic and the most extravagant of these two extremes.

Discovering your own sweet spot is where the best value proposition is to create and maintain profitability for your business. That is where I hope to focus in the posts that will follow on a regular basis. I will be sharing points of interest, ideas, solutions and strategies for identifying the most accurate and efficient steps to take in planning the housing and process flow of all the data you need for success … with a dose of irreverence sprinkled in liberally along the way.

Backlink Pruning: A Staple ‘Best’ Practice, Especially in Penguin’s Aftermath

Many direct marketers are familiar with the practice of list hygiene. In a nutshell, it’s going through your email file, looking at inactive, duplicate or bad emails, and removing them or “purging them” from your list. Having a “clean” list means it’s more relevant and responsive. The same holds true for backlinks … especially in lieu of recent Google algorithm updates like last year’s Farmer/Panda and this year’s Penguin, which penalize websites for low quality irrelevant content and backlinks.

Many direct marketers are familiar with the practice of list hygiene. In a nutshell, it’s going through your email file, looking at inactive, duplicate or bad emails, and removing them or “purging them” from your list.

Having a “clean” list means it’s more relevant and responsive.

The same holds true for backlinks … especially in lieu of recent Google algorithm updates like last year’s Farmer/Panda and this year’s Penguin, which penalize websites for low quality irrelevant content and backlinks.

It’s always a best practice, from a search engine hygiene standpoint, to monitor and “prune” your backlinks to make sure you don’t have spammy or irrelevant websites linking back to you.

And now more than ever, with Google’s latest update, it’s prudent to check your own website’s backlinks to ensure those who are linking to you are relevant and synergistic to your own site’s content.

Here’s what you need to know (and do!):

First, check out some free online tools that do this, known as “backlink checkers.” Some that I use are:

But there are many out there. You can simply type a search for “free backlink checker tool” and see which one appeals best to you.

Second, after you plug in your website’s URL in the backlink checker tool, go down the results list and see who’s linking back to you. Note: This is a laborious process, but well worth it; especially if you noticed your traffic and SERP placement dropped recently and you may have speculated that Penguin is to blame.

Next, identify the sites that appear to be irrelevant and non-related to your website—a site in a totally different industry or one that is blatantly spam. Then it’s simply the manual process of visiting the bad backlinks website and contacting them to remove the link going to your site.

If you happen to find dozens of irrelevant and potentially harmful websites, for the sake of time management, it’s best to create one form letter and send to each asking each site to remove its backlink to your site in an effort to avoid/recover from a Google penalty.

List the specifics about the irrelevant URL, such as where it can be found (its entire URL), where it links to (which page on your site), and any anchor text. Your goal is to give the other website as much useful information as possible so they can easily find the link and remove it from your site.

Sometimes, it’s easy to find contact information for the irrelevant backlink’s website owner. You simply visit the corresponding website link and search their site for contact information or a “Contact Us” page.

Other times it’s a bit harder, and you may need to do a bit of sleuthing and use some additional free tools to help determine the website’s owner. Such tools are:

  • Domaintools.com: If you want to find out who owns the site your link is on,
    visit domain tools or type “whois.sc” in front of a URL.
  • C-Class Checker: If you have a list of all the links you want to get rid of,
    you can run them through a bulk C-class checker to see how many of them
    are on the same C-class.
  • SpyonWeb: If you only have 1 URL to work with, this tool lets you find out

what other domains they are associated with. Just put in a website URL,
IP address or even the Google analytics or AdSense code and you can find
all of the websites that are connected to it. Keep a record of all efforts to
contact “bad links,” as it will show Google you’ve been making a good effort
to get rid of these irrelevant links.

If you received notification from Google or found that the Panda or Penguin updates have affected your website’s rank and SERP visibility and believe there may have been an error of some sort, there is some recourse …

Google has a quick and easy form you can fill out to pinpoint search terms that you believe you shouldn’t be penalized for.

Good luck!

To Gate or Not to Gate, That Is the B-to-B Content Marketing Question

There’s a spirited debate in B-to-B marketing about whether it’s best to give away information (aka “content,” like white papers and research reports) to all comers, versus requiring web visitors to provide some information in exchange for a content download. In other words, to gate your content or not to gate. The debate involves aspects of both ROI and philosophy. Here’s why.

There’s a spirited debate in B-to-B marketing about whether it’s best to give away information (AKA “content,” like white papers and research reports) to all comers, versus requiring Web visitors to provide some information in exchange for a content download. In other words, to gate your content or not to gate. The debate involves aspects of both ROI and philosophy. Here’s why.

I know that plenty of very smart and well-respected Internet marketing experts line up with dear old Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, who famously said in 1984 that information “wants to be free.” The underlying assumption there is that people buy from companies that they trust—a valid point, to be sure. Casting a net through free—unimpeded—distribution of content encourages both trust and, perhaps more importantly, wide dispersal and sharing of information. You’ll get to a much bigger audience, who will be educated on the solutions to their business problems, will be grateful for the free info and, one hopes, will think of you when they’re ready to buy. So far, so good.

The problem is that this model—which lives under the umbrella concept known as “inbound marketing”—leaves marketers in a serious quandary. We don’t have any way of knowing who is reading our informative, educational and helpful content. We are left sitting on our thumbs, unable to take any proactive steps toward building relationships with these potential prospects. All we can do is wait for them to contact us and, we hope, ask us to participate in an RFP process, or, more likely, give them more info and more answers to their questions. Is that any way to sustain and grow a business relationship—not to mention meet a revenue target? In my view, it leaves too much to chance.

Let’s look at the numbers. The ROI model for inbound marketing says that distributing the content to a wide audience will eventually result in more sales than gating the content and marketing proactively to a smaller universe. Let’s look at how these numbers might actually work:

To start the conversation, say that wide distribution would put your content in front of 10,000 prospects, via free downloads and pass-along.

In contrast, we might similarly assume that by gating, and requiring some contact information in exchange for the content download, we would only get 1 percent of that distribution: 100 prospects. These are now legitimate inquirers, and we can conduct outbound communications to them. By applying typical campaign conversion rates, we could predict that of 100 inquiries, 20 percent will qualify—producing 20 qualified leads. Of those, we’ll be able to contact 50 percent (or 10), and of them 20 percent will convert, resulting in 2 sales.

But how many sales will we get from the 10,000 with whom have no direct connection? It’s hard to say. When inquiries come in, we can ask where they heard of us, and certainly some will say they read the white paper, or whatever content we put into circulation. But this data tends to be unreliable. Inquirers usually don’t remember how they heard of you, or they just make up an answer to get the question out of the way.

This is exactly why business marketers debate the subject with such vigor. We have data, and thus proof, on the gating side. But we only have conjecture on the other. So it boils down to which side you believe. It’s tough to do sustainable marketing on faith.

Myself, I grew up as a marketer in the world of measurable direct and database marketing. So it’s no surprise that I favor the gating side of the fence. I like marketing campaigns that provide predictable results. Where I can stand up in court and show a history of my campaign response rates, conversion rates, and cost-per-lead numbers. And most important, where I can reasonably expect to deliver a steady stream of qualified leads to my sales counterparts, who are relying on me to help them meet their quotas.

So that’s my argument for gating content in B-to-B marketing. I understand the logic of the other side. And I see clearly situations where it makes sense to let the information run free-as a teaser, for example, to persuade prospects to come and get the richer information that is so useful that they’ll be falling all over themselves to give me their name, title, company name and email address. But what about you? Where do you sit in this debate? It’s a biggie.

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

SEO Vs. PPC: 5 ‘Power Tips’ to Drive Organic Traffic to Your Website

OK, so you have a website. Blood, sweat and tears (as well as cash!) have gone into getting this thing up and running. You’ve used all your creative juices to get the words just right. And you added some nice graphics to make the site aesthetically pleasing. Now what? A website is of little use if nobody can find it. It’s kind of like having a telephone book ad with no contact information … it’s practically useless.

OK, so you have a website. Blood, sweat and tears (as well as cash!) have gone into getting this thing up and running. You’ve used all your creative juices to get the words just right. And you added some nice graphics to make the site aesthetically pleasing. Now what?

A website is of little use if nobody can find it. It’s kind of like having a telephone book ad with no contact information … it’s practically useless.

Mastering organic search ranking has proven to be a fundamental part of the online marketing mix. (By “organic,” I mean the “natural,” as opposed to “paid/PPC,” listing that appears when someone conducts a search on Google or other search engines. Optimal placement is typically within the first 20 listings or three pages.)

Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO)—the ability to increase your site’s visibility in organic search listings and refine the content structure on the site itself—are critical for market awareness and customer acquisition.

An eye-tracking study showed that about 50 percent of viewers begin their search scan at the top of the organic listing results. Other studies show that about 70 percent of Web surfers click on organic listings before they click on a sponsored link.

Don’t let your site get lost in the Internet Black Hole, when there are five simple ways to help boost your website’s traffic and optimization.

1. Create online buzz about your site, product or service. You can do this by generating free online press releases. There are distribution services on the Web that offer no-cost packages, sites such as PRlog.org, Free-press-release.com and others. You can also post a link to your news release to targeted social marketing sites like LinkedIn (relevant groups), Facebook, Twitter as well as high-traffic blogs.

2. Initiate a relevant inbound link program. Set up a reciprocal link page or blog roll (a listing of URLs on a blog, as opposed to a website) that can house links from industry sites. Contact these sites to see if they’d be willing to swap links with you—a link to your site for a link to theirs. Relevance, rank and quality are key when selecting link-building partner sites. Search engines shun link harvesting (collecting links from random websites that have no relevance to your site), so these links should be from sites that are similar in nature to your business.

3. Give Web searchers great content and a link back to your site. Upload original, “UVA” (useful, valuable and actionable) and relevant editorial to high quality content directories such as eZinearticles.com, ArticlesBase.com and Goarticles.com. There are also more niche directories that focus on topics like health and investing. This is a great way to increase market awareness, as well as establish an inbound link to your site. Content should be targeted to the directory and audience you want to get in front of. There is also a syndication opportunity, as third-party sites may come across your article when doing a Web search and republish your content on their own websites. As long as third parties give your site editorial attribution and a link, getting them to republish your content is just another distribution channel for you to consider. For more information how to effectively master content marketing, search engine algorithms and Google updates, read my blog entry titled, “Is the ‘A’ in SONAR (article marketing) still a viable tactic with search engines and the Farmer/PANDA updates?

4. Website pages should be keyword-rich and related to your business.
Make a list of your top 10 to 15 keywords and variations of those words and incorporate them into the copy on your site (avoiding the obvious repetition of words). Search engines crawl Web pages from top to bottom, so your strongest keywords should be in that order on your home page and sub-pages (the most relevant on the top, the least relevant on the bottom).

You’ll want to do the same for your tagging. Make sure your title tags (the descriptions at the top of each page) and meta tags are unique and chock full of keywords. And your alt tags/alt attributions (images) should have relevant descriptions, as well.

5. List your site in online directories and classified sites by related category or region. This is an effective way to increase exposure and get found by prospects searching specifically for information on your product or service by keyword topic. Popular directories (like Business.com) typically have a nominal fee. But there are many other directories and classified sites (like Dmoz.org, Info.com, Superpages.com and Craigslist.org) that are free and can be targeted by location and product (offer) type.

Most important, before you start your SEO initiatives, don’t forget to establish a baseline for your site so you can measure pre- vs. post-SEO tactics. Upload a site counter (which counts the number of visits to your website), obtain your site’s traffic ranking at Alexa.com or Quantcast.com, or get your site’s daily visit average (from Google Analytics or another application)—and then chart your weekly progress in Excel.

Understand that with organic search, it may take several months for a site to be optimized and gain search engine traction … so be patient. You will eventually see results. And if you set up your website correctly to harness the surge of traffic you will receive, you can also monetize the traffic visits for lead generation or sales.

4 Hot Topics From eTail

Here are four hot topics in cross-channel retailing that are being discussed at eTail 2011 in Palm Desert, Calif. this week:

Here are four hot topics in cross-channel retailing that are being discussed at eTail 2011 in Palm Desert, Calif. this week:

1. Customer acquisition is back in vogue. OK, customer acquisition is nothing new for retailers. But after a few sluggish quarters, retailers are back to spending money on ways to find more customers. Both traditional and innovative acquisition trends were discussed in the following session: Developing a Long-Term Sustainable Mix of Acquisition and Retention Channels.

Traditional channels work best for Musicnotes.com, according to Bill Aicher, the e-tailer’s web director, as well as a panelist at the session. Paid and natural search, affiliate channels, and word-of mouth are the acquisition marketing techniques his company relies on. Testing is important too. “We test a lot of programs, and if we can get a 2 percent or higher response rate, we consider it successful and put more money into it,” Aicher said.

Search engine optimization is a leading acquisition tool for Motorcycle Superstore, said Erick Barney, vice president of marketing for the online retailer and another speaker at the session. “While search has been around for such a long time, I still think of it as a channel that’s progressing,” he said. “There’s so much more we as an industry need to learn about it.”

An innovative customer acquisition technique was raised by panelist Sara Ezrin, senior director of strategic services at Experian CheetahMail. It focuses on the growing use of iPads in retail stores. “Salespeople in retail establishments are using iPads more and more in-store to collect email addresses and other contact information from customers,” she said.

2. Social commerce getting mixed reviews. The concept of social commerce — i.e., using social networks in the context of e-commerce — has also been a hot topic at the show. Some e-tailers were on the hunt for Facebook developers who could help them create Facebook stores. Payvment, a Facebook shopping platform, seemed to have a crowd at its booth consistently. In general, however, retailers are approaching this concept cautiously.

Consider Tony Bartel, president of video game retailer GameStop, who spoke at a session titled Navigating the Retail Rapids. Bartel said that while GameStop does have a Facebook store, most of the company’s e-commerce transactions take place on Gamestop.com. “We have a lot of interaction with our 1.8 million Facebook followers,” he said, “but we’ve found that when they want to buy something they go to our website.”

Bartel wasn’t quite sure why that’s the case. “Maybe it’s because there are only a few items for sale in our Facebook store, and we don’t have all the bells and whistles there,” he said. “But we’ve been testing the concept for two months now, and will continue to do so.”

3. Retargeting marketing programs are picking up speed. Retargeting, a marketing technique that enables retailers to reach consumers who have visited their sites by serving ads to them post-visit on other content sites across the web, was a heavily discussed subject at the show. Most retailers here believe the tactic is effective because enabling consumers to receive multiple marketing messages from them means their brand can be top of mind.

4. E-commerce media is on the rise.
E-commerce media, a form of online media that allows retailers to target shoppers with product-specifc ads on their sites, was another popular theme. HookLogic, a company that creates product and media placements on e-commerce sites, announced that Shoebuy.com will be using its services to offer premium brand and product placements from its partners within its online store.

DiJiPOP, a company that offers “digital shelf space solutions,” announced that Wal-Mart Canada has selected it to power the digital shelf space monetization efforts of its Walmart.ca online property. The solution will allow Wal-Mart Canada to offer premium placement to its vendor partners, creating a new high-margin revenue stream. Just as a vendor pays a retailer for prime shelf space in-store to stimulate sales, the acquisition of optimal digital shelf space achieves the same goal.