Purging (and Blocking) Bot Traffic From Email Reporting Metrics

How many “fake” email metrics are out there — spurious traffic measured in opens, clickthroughs, and other engagement metrics? How many of these email reporting metrics may be built into service-level guarantees offered by some email service providers (ESPs)? And what should we do about it?

How many “fake” email metrics are out there spurious traffic measured in opens, clickthroughs, and other engagement metrics? How many of these email reporting metrics may be built into service-level guarantees offered by some email service providers (ESPs)? And what should we do about it?

For those of who pay attention to such metrics (thank you for reading this far), perhaps we need to do more data investigation, working closely with our ESPs to make sure there’s nothing “fake” in our marketing performance reporting.

This was essentially the point of Stirista Global CEO Ajay Gupta in a blog post he shared after a competitor’s operations were reportedly shut down by its new parent company this summer. I’m using this post to share some of his observations  which may be helpful as we look to our email campaigns, and read the engagement data in order to best ascertain accuracy. [Disclaimer: Stirista is a continuing client. My interest in amplifying this content is intended to serve email marketers, at large.]

A Cautionary Tale: Take 5 Media Group Shutdown

Gupta gave permission to share his Aug. 9 post:

Ajay Gupta
Ajay Gupta

Stirista Global CEO Ajay Gupta has something to say about email reporting fraud.

“Tongues have been wagging in the marketing world ever since the New York Times’ shocking exposé in early 2018 about how easy it is to buy social followers. And, how most of the followers you buy turn out to be ‘bots’ or fake accounts, and not real people.

“I was not surprised, because I work in digital media and knew about this practice. So, I cried, screamed, and wrote about an even bigger epidemic in the world of email. My articles were received with polite applause and not much more in terms of action.

“But then last week happened. One of our competitors, Take 5 Media Group, shut down operations with a ‘ceased operations’ message on its website. While details are still murky, one of our partners shared an email from them that mentioned the parent company had completely shut down the business after discovering inconsistencies in how open and clickthrough rates were inaccurately reported to its clients.

“The parent company did the right thing, in after discovering these inconsistencies, took immediate action to first, take responsibility, and subsequently, offer its clients reimbursement for payment of services already rendered. Kudos to them for standing up for the right thing, but there are still at least a half dozen companies masquerading as legitimate entities that continue the practice.

“This incident is but a sobering reminder that bots remain a big problem in email marketing today. Sadly, when you order up a prospecting campaign from an email service provider, chances are that the large part of the campaign is being sent to fake bot accounts. And nobody seems to care.

“We have, as an industry, created a fake floor of 10% open on acquisition emails. When marketing managers of Fortune 1000 companies ask Stirista to guarantee 10% open just because some guy from Florida said so, we know we have a problem.

“Now, it should be clear to any marketer worth his or her salt, that if the bulk of the clicks come through bots, that conversion rates will be dismal. So, I can only assume that the marketers ordering up these campaigns aren’t keeping their eyes on conversions. They must judge them on clicks and opens. Or, maybe they don’t care. We are here today because many large data companies that outsource email campaigns have subsidized fraud.

“Let Take 5 serve [as] a cautionary tale, but realize that this is not an isolated incident. The pressure to deliver fake open, fake clicks, and fake form fills transcend one company and one incident. Collectively, this industry has turned a blind eye to fraud, just because ‘so and so’ is a nice guy and a vegetarian who loves animals.

“These fraudulent providers often work quietly, behind the scenes, for a reputable agency or data provider. Many times, marketers are shielded from the dirty dealings underneath the hood. But all parties involved — the providers, their partners, and the marketers themselves — should be ashamed of themselves. And, the FCC should be on their case. Until then, we must all be responsible for fighting back against bot fraud.

“I urge all marketers to shun this practice. It’s wasting your company’s money. And it’s given honest, transparent providers like me a bad name. Open rates are a terrible metric to track as in you can’t track it that well.

“So, if you hear a guarantee that sounds too good to be true, very likely it is. Walk, make that RUN, the other way, FAST.”

Back to Chet. I remember the first time I saw a data provider advertise a way to “buy” 5,000 followers on this-or-that social platform for some CPM, some 10 to 12 years ago and I thought then, “here we go again with the shysters living on and off the fringes of direct marketing.” In each and everywhere data is in play, and the compensation from it, we must guard ourselves from the “fake” and the “fraud.” Better to measure conversions, sales, and metrics that are real.

How Your Site Speed Could Be Slowing Your Business Growth

Site speed not only hurts conversions, but it can also hold back your search engine optimization efforts. Learn how to identify and fix site speed issues that may be slowing your business growth.

Imagine that you are casually browsing through a clothing store and something catches your eye. You are interested in buying the item, but all the lines are backed up in the store. Not wanting to wait around, you put the item back on the shelf and move on to a different store.

That same scenario can happen on your website if your site speed is too slow. And the end result is the same — lost sales.

The Impacts of a Slow Site

Your website should be capable of allowing visitors to quickly answer questions that inform their decisions on making a purchase or using your business’s services. They do not want to wait around forever to read a product description or to go through checkout with items in their online cart. Every second your visitors waits around is a potentially lost conversion.

Fifty-three percent of mobile users abandon a site that takes longer than three seconds to load. Here are other ways a slow website can impact your business prospects.

  1. Lower Search Engine Rankings — Google began using site speed as one of its criteria for organic search rankings back in 2010. It updated the algorithm in July 2018, making speed an even more critical factor. That means your best SEO efforts could go to waste if the pace of your site causes high bounce rates.
  2. Poor User Experience — Slow load times discourage users from revisiting your site. Seventy-nine percent of web shoppers won’t return to a slow-moving website. (Opens as a PDF)
  3. Bad Word of Mouth  — The impacts of slow load times extend beyond a single visit. Forty percent of visitors let others know about the bad experience they had, which keeps other potential customers from paying a visit. (This PDF shows that percentage is higher)

You can see a lot of money spent on advertising and other digital marketing go down the drain, thanks to slow website speeds.

Testing Your Site Speed

Speed tests on your website will tell you how fast your website moves for visitors and how search engine algorithms would rank you.

Speed Tool Options

  • PageSpeed Insights — PageSpeed Insights from Google measures your site speed and gives you details on improving your load time. The tool can also be accessed from Google Analytics under Site Speed in the Behavior section.
  • GTmetrix —  GTmetrix provides you with feedback on your site loading times and makes recommendations on improvements and optimizations. It also offers a guide full of suggestions on optimizing your WordPress pages.
  • WebPage Test — Use WebPage Test to find out what’s happening behind the scenes of your site. One great feature offered is the ability to test loading from different devices and server locations.
  • TestMySite — This Think With Google tool informs you of areas around your website where you have an opportunity to improve your page load time on mobile devices.

Many of these tools do not require administrative access to a website, meaning they can be run on both your own and competitor sites. You can gain insight into rankings for both yourself and rivals in search engines.

Improving Your Site Speed

Once you have a good idea on where your site ranks speed-wise, you can opt for a variety of tools to improve your page loading. One thing you can start doing is tracking any alerts Google puts out around changes to its speed algorithm, which usually happens six months before they go into effect. Use that time to make some of the following updates to improve your site-load time.

  1. Utilize Website Cache — If you’re not already using cache, then this is a quick way to improve your site speed. Think of cache as a copy of your webpages that can be served much faster to visitors.
  2. Use AMPs (Accelerated Mobile Pages) — AMPs point your standard HTML web page to a stripped-down version for mobile devices. They load much more quickly, cutting load times by as much as 85 percent.
  3. Watch Your Image Size — As much as you might love the header image on your site, the size of it might be impacting your page speed. It is recommended that you keep web pages under 500 KB in size.
  4. Think About User Intent — Because so many users issue voice commands, it is essential that your site accounts for conversational queries vs. static keyword phrases, which can make searches faster for visitors. Localizing your content can also speed up searches issued by users in your area.
  5. Review Your Site Construct — Take the time to have your page documentation reviewed. Unwieldy JavaScript and CSS can add to your page load times.

Summing It Up

Slow site speed can stunt the impact of any digital marketing plan. Use the recommended tools above to measure your site speed and get insight on how to improve your site speed on web and mobile. Lastly, review your site content for ways to reduce your page size and improve page loading.

Investing the time to improve your site speed will improve the user experience and ultimately boost your conversion rates.

Do you want more tips to improve your SEO? You can  grab a copy of the “Ultimate SEO Checklist.”

4 Steps to Improve Conversion Using an Analytical Approach

Improving on-site conversions and increasing sales has been and always will be a top priority for smart businesses. However, WordStream found from first-hand analysis that the average conversion rate for a business website is a measly 2.35%. Obviously, having more sales is the key to long-term success, but finding effective ways to optimize the factors that impact the conversion rate is often very tricky, for several reasons.

Improving on-site conversions and increasing sales has been and always will be a top priority for smart businesses. However, WordStream found from first-hand analysis that the average conversion rate for a business website is a measly 2.35%. Obviously, having more sales is the key to long-term success, but finding effective ways to optimize the factors that impact the conversion rate is often very tricky, for several reasons.

First of all, there are many factors that influence conversions and purchase decisions. One little bump in the road can bring the buyer’s journey to a screeching halt. Secondly, it is difficult to determine which factors exactly are hurting or helping, making conversion rate optimization (CRO) a seemingly impossible task for many businesses.

This is why an analytical approach is necessary for true conversion rate optimization. Data is a crucial and necessary ingredient for any smart business decision. And thankfully, accurate data is more accessible now than ever with evolving technology and tools.

Here’s how to improve conversions with an analytical approach that consists of four simple steps…

1. Identify the Gaps

You cannot fix what you do not know is broken. On the other hand, it is extremely wasteful and counterproductive to start from scratch when some elements of your website are actually working just fine. Therefore, you need to find the weakest links and address them first.

Google Analytics is actually a great tool in this regard. There are plenty of insights that it offers, which can shed light on the details of your website that are affecting conversion rates. For example, you may want to start off with the obvious comparisons, like desktop vs. mobile conversions.

It is important to note that the global average conversion rate for desktop devices is nearly 4%, while that for mobile is just under 2%. So there will be some divergence between these two rates. However if, for example, your mobile conversion rates are significantly lower, it could be a sign that the UX is not optimized properly or even interfering with the customer experience.

conversion rate
Credit: Smartinsights.com

2. Start Simple and Work Your Way Up

Boosting your micro, mini and macro conversions doesn’t require a complex strategy or an overwhelming overhaul of your existing marketing campaigns. Instead, look for the simplest changes that will have an impact on lead qualification, sales complexity, or purchase timelines.

At its core, your conversion rate depends greatly on the customer experience. Providing a remarkable CX starts early on in the targeting process. With the right brand messaging and martech implementation, you can improve CX and influence your conversion rates.

For example, your promotions and advertising should be contextual and timely. This, in turn, depends on how well you’ve carried out keyword research and whether your content matches trends in your niche.

Ask your marketing team key questions about the basics of your strategies. For example, how long has it been since you defined your core audience and analyzed data to determine the demographics of your customers? Things change quickly over time and you need to adapt to changes in consumer behavior on a regular basis to ensure effective targeting of each segment.

conversion rate optimization
Credit: Datapine.com

Many a time, instituting online conversions as an organizational process or operational function needs a top-down approach. In order to know and meet industry standards and benchmarks, and find meaningful correlations in your business, you may want to restructure your C-suite to handle Big Data and its implications on marketing and customer service. Many modern companies are now hiring CDOs (chief data officers) and CCOs (chief customer experience officers) to gather insights from analytics and deliver better customer service. Bringing on experts in these fields can do wonders for your CRO strategy.

3. Optimize Hot Points

In order to truly optimize your conversion rates, you need to understand how customers are interacting with your website. Using heat maps is a great way to understand the general path that visitors follow on your website. Website heat maps track mouse movements, click rates, and scrolling speeds, and use color-coded overlays to identify the parts or elements where the most action is occurring on your web pages.

CRO
Credit: Hotjar.com

Using insights from heat maps, you can influence the user’s course of action by better positioning key elements (and tweaking their copy) that help boost conversions.

By placing CTA buttons in the areas where their eyes are naturally drawn, you can increase on-page engagement. You can also use this information to guide product displays, optimize content placement, and just create a more appealing layout that is designed to move customers through the sales funnel.

Healthcare publishing media site Nurse.com used heat map testing to optimize the content placement on its website to increase the number of signups for its online courses. They found that their existing layout unfortunately had very low engagement and the placement of their CTAs was less than ideal. After testing new designs and altering the layout with important CTA buttons along the natural reading flow, they were able to increase their conversions by nearly 16%.

4. Monitor, Adjust, and Improve

An analytical approach to CRO doesn’t just stop with identifying weaknesses and providing solutions. As you make changes, it is imperative that you continue to measure the impact that these changes are having on your conversion rates for an extended period of time and continue to test out alternative tactics. This is the only way make strategic changes that deliver long-lasting results.

When it comes to testing various strategies, the traditional approach has been to use A/B testing for layouts and copy. While this system has certainly been a staple for marketing teams in the past, it definitely has its faults. However, machine-learning and AI-enabled technology now allow businesses to conduct multivariate testing and also implement the results with utmost accuracy.

For example, money transfer startup Monito used AI-based testing to optimize conversions on a landing page that showed the best currency conversion rates. First, they used machine learning analysis to test out the efficacy of hypothetical designs of their lead box and estimate sign-up behavior through predictive heat maps. They then ran 12 design variants simultaneously, while AI measured and rated visitor interactions. The best design ultimately led to a 50% rise in signups.

CRO image
Credit: Eyequant.com

You need to continually test and monitor your changes to be sure that your site is truly optimized at all times. Your target audiences and their preferences both are constantly changing; so what may have worked well a few months ago may no longer be the best option.

In Conclusion

Using an analytical approach to CRO is truthfully the only way to guarantee continued success. By making the most of modern tools to collect behavioral data, make changes to your website’s design, and constantly monitor the outcomes, you can expect to see significant increases in conversions on an ongoing basis. Good luck!

Conversions Are More Important Than Traffic With Google Ads and 3 Steps to Up Them

What’s the difference between successful (profitable) and unsuccessful (unprofitable) Google Ads advertisers? Successful advertisers focus more on conversions than traffic.

conversionsAnybody can spend money on Google Ads. But only a small percentage of advertisers earn a healthy profit from their investments in advertising. So, what’s the difference between successful (profitable) and unsuccessful (unprofitable) advertisers?

Unsuccessful advertisers focus on traffic. Successful advertisers focus on conversion. They understand that conversion is what really makes or breaks an advertising campaign.

In this context, we can define conversion as the ability to turn website visitors into customers. If you can convert on traffic at higher rates than your competitors, you’ll not only profit more, but you’ll be able to expand your reach and gain more market share.

Of course, traffic and conversion go hand-in-hand. You need traffic in order to get more conversions and customers. But in the scheme of things, conversion is way more important than traffic. Conversion is where all the leverage is. And to succeed with advertising, you must prioritize conversion over traffic.

You may be wondering, “Why is a conversion more important than traffic?” The answer is that your conversion rate places a limit on your traffic. For example…

  • If you have really low conversions … Only a tiny percentage of website visitors are converting into customers, and that means you’re probably losing money on your advertising, and you’ll have to stop or you’ll go broke.
  • If you have mediocre conversions …. Only a small percentage of your website visitors are converting into customers, and then you’ll have to “retreat” and find places where you can still earn a profit. Your traffic potential is very limited.
  • But if you have really strong conversions … You’re converting more website visitors into customers, compared with your competition. As a result, you’ll have the money to expand your advertising. Essentially, high conversion rates provide the funding to buy traffic.

Here’s the process you should take to create and fine-tune a high-converting advertising campaign:

Step 1: Always Run the Numbers Before You Run Ads

Never pull the trigger on an ad campaign before you run the numbers. You need to know how much you can really afford to get a click, generate a lead and acquire a new customer. Do some “back of the envelope” calculations to see what kind of conversion rates you’d need to have for your advertising to be profitable.

Step 2. Put Your Best Foot Forward

Once you run the numbers, you’ll probably need to make some improvements to your conversion systems in order to make the numbers work in your favor. You’ll want to create a high-converting landing page. You also may need to adjust your offer and pricing, improve your sales/closing process, put upsells in place and create a follow-up sequence.

The important thing is to do this before you buy traffic, so you’ll have confidence you can actually make money from your ads. Always avoid advertising into a “leaky” funnel, because that’s just asking to lose money.

Step 3. Never Stop Testing

Once you’ve got your ads live, that’s really just the beginning.

Now you need to track, tweak and test in order to get your campaign to be profitable. And once your ads are profitable, you should not “set it and forget it.” Instead, you should be continually tracking, tweaking and testing your marketing funnel. This is where advertising gets really fun, because with every conversion improvement you make, you’re giving yourself a raise. Plus, you’re widening the gap between you and your competition, making it harder and harder for anybody to catch up and compete with you.

Want more tips to improve your Google advertising? Get your free copy of our Ultimate Google AdWords Checklist.

 

Lead Generation Metrics — The Basics and Beyond

Lead generation metrics should help you understand not only what parts of your digital marketing are working, but what parts are generating the highest quality leads.

There are basic lead generation metrics that you must to be tracking in order to evaluate the success of your lead gen efforts. You’ll likely have to go beyond the basics to mine truly valuable insights about your efforts.

Here’s a list, that’s by no means comprehensive, of my favorite basic and more advanced metrics.

First, the basics.

Impressions

How many people are seeing your ad, your content or whatever it is you’re using to attract that audience? This is, to use another term, your reach. Your tracking and evaluation here should be on a per-channel basis, with an eye toward finding the channels that you are able to grow most cost-effectively.

Clickthrough Rate

CTR is the number of people who interact with your content. Typically, that means they click the ad or the link in your social media post, etc. (You might also want to track other types of engagement, like subscriptions.) The critical element of this metric is breaking it down to individual ads or content, including individual issues of your newsletter campaign. You want to know what is resonating with your audience and what is driving them to take action.

Conversions

A conversion can be many different things, depending on the goal you have for your lead generation campaign. (e.g. marketing-qualified leads, sales-qualified leads, etc.) Whatever action you deem to be a conversion, it’s generally a “state change” along the buyer’s journey. That can be a move from a member of the target audience who’s never heard of you to a website visitor to a prospect to a MQL to an SQL and finally to becoming a client. Each of those state changes is a conversion that should be tracked separately.

Conversion Rate

This calculated metric is a function of conversions divided by impressions. It’s worth tracking on its own, of course, but should also be evaluated with some latitude. That is, as you expand your reach and your impressions rise, you may have a less tightly targeted audience. Of course, you’d like your conversion rate to always rise. But if it falls while the total number of conversions rise, that’s not necessarily a bad trade-off.

With these data points solidly represented in our dashboard, we can move on to additional (and increasingly useful) measurements.

Cost per Lead

What does it take to move a prospect through a stage in the funnel? How does the cost compare with other methods? (Direct mail, trade shows, etc.) How do costs compare across the various digital channels you’re using? These are the metrics that will guide your spend going forward.

Leads per Channel

Another calculated metric worth adding to your dashboard. Here, you compare how many leads a channel is generating against all other channels. It’s an analog to conversion rate in that a channel with more leads generated from a smaller audience (impressions) might be a channel worth exploring more deeply.

Time to Conversion

This metric typically takes some aggregating of data across platforms, as you’ll want to note when each state change occurs. It’s valuable to know how long it takes a typical prospect to proceed through each stage. It’s even more valuable to know this on a per-channel basis. And more valuable still to know average time-per-conversion for those prospects that become clients. You can then tailor your programs to pay more attention to those prospects who appear to be on that “golden path.”

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

CLV should be calculated across the board and broken down by channel. A channel with a slightly higher cost per lead but a 10-time increase in CLV is a great channel!

Conclusion

You may find the able list of metrics daunting to consider, especially if you’re not gathering and reviewing any of them now. If so, there’s no reason not to start small. As you become more comfortable with the data, you can expand your dashboard to include a broader range of data points and a broader possibility of action points.

A Strategy for Successful Leadership of the Website Team

Does your website team try to dazzle you with reams of reports and statistics weekly, so much so that you cannot tell if the website is actually improving in performance? Should you care? If you demand they structure their reports every week as I describe below, the result will be a focused team and an ever-improving website.

Does your website team try to dazzle you with reams of reports and statistics weekly, so much so that you cannot tell if the website is actually improving in performance? Should you care? If you look at SQLs by source, there is a good chance that the website is the best source of SQLs. So, yes, you should care. If you demand they structure their reports every week as I describe below, the result will be a focused team and an ever-improving website.

First, establish and educate on the actual goals of the website. Let’s exclude eCommerce websites because they represent an entirely different set of goals, actions and reports. The goals of your website might include the following:

  • Generate high quality net new leads for the business
  • Provide ongoing education for leads and customers already in the funnel
  • Reinforce brand attributes and brand loyalty
  • Increase brand awareness and advance all thought leadership initiatives

Pretty simple right? So, do you measure your website based on these goals? Yeah, that’s not that simple. The website must do several things to meet these goals.

  1. Attract new visitors and have a plan for how to gain returning visitors
  2. Get more of the visitors to read more than one page (move bouncers to browsers)
  3. Get more of the visitors to engage with the downloadable content (move browsers to downloaders)
  4. Get more of the visitors to fill in a form (move downloaders to converters)

Here are the 5 reporting slides I suggest you ask to see either weekly or monthly that will summarize your website performance as it relates to the goals you set for it.

1. Organic Attract

Measure and report on the trend for weekly visitors and especially new visitors. Give the team a target goal each quarter for new visitors per month. To tune up the website to hit this goal they will have to:

  1. Clean up the website errors that cause poor ranking with the search engines
  2. Identify which keywords should be targeted, and improve the visibility of keywords which are bringing the best browsers, downloaders and converters
  3. Add content which addresses the topics and answers the questions being queried on the search engines, and optimize those blog pages and other web content
  4. Add AMP capability for all pages – i.e. make it more mobile friendly (Google indexes mobile first now)
  5. Move to SSL for all pages and sub-domains
  6. Gain authority with quality backlinks to good performing content from websites with high authority
  7. Reduce page load times to less than 3 seconds by compressing images, reducing scripts, etc.
  8. Identify which channels are driving the best potential new MQLs and SQLs, and focus more resources there

Your weekly one slide “Attract” report should highlight the visitor trend week over week, the hottest entrance pages for attracting new visitors and specify which actions from the list above are planned for this week. The report should also highlight how many of the returning visitors are from existing customers.

2. Bounce to Browse

So you have a great blog that brings in 50% of the traffic, but do they just read that one page and then bounce (exit the website) or are you drawing them deeper into your website? Your team should report weekly on the average duration and page views trend for visitors and what they are doing to improve the numbers.

  1. Add CTAs (calls to action) to all the top performing entrance pages immediately
  2. Consider adding tools like Uberflip or PathFactory
  3. Leverage tools like Crazy Egg to see where visitors are clicking and scrolling and how they are interacting

The one slide report should specify what actions they are taking this week to increase visit duration and the number of pages viewed.

3. Browsers to Downloaders

One of your goals is to provide education to people in the funnel, so you cannot expect to put all content behind gates (forms). A large percentage of your website content will need to be ungated (freemium vs. premium content). Each week your team should report on what percentage of visitors downloaded content and which content was best at driving engagement. What actions are they taking to improve the numbers?

  1. Where is the content placed? Is it in CTAs on all the appropriate pages?
  2. Which content is hot, and can you link to it from more places?

4. Conversions

How good is the website at capturing new leads and getting existing leads and customers to engage with premium content? Each week the one slide report should highlight all the form fills by asset or form type, highlight how many were new leads and share form completion rates by form/asset. The actions pursued each week include:

  1. Fine tune form questions and leverage progressive profiling
  2. Place links to premium content in more hot locations on the website
  3. Add more premium content to the website
  4. Retire older premium content or move to freemium status

The team should have a weekly goal for number of new leads they want to hit.

5. Paid search and paid media summary

Paid campaigns do attraction and conversion all in one, so it is appropriate we report on it separately from the items above. But one slide is all a CMO needs, not reams of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and other paid media reports. The one slide should include what campaigns you are running by offer and channel, new leads produced, how much you are spending and the ultimate cost per new lead. It would also be good to report on lead quality (cost per MQL and SQL). The actions for the team weekly include:

  1. What new tests or campaigns they are going to try
  2. What campaigns have run their course or need modification
  3. What budget shifts will happen to improve portfolio results

Do you have a similar website performance five slide or less weekly report? If so, please share.

Next time, learn how the inbound group fits in with the demand generation team in a revenue marketing organization.

HubSpot Email Template Not Working? Here’s How to Fix It

Are your HubSpot email templates not working? The key to starting more conversations is to find and correct your blind spots, especially the ones that may be lurking in your email templates.

“I just finished a year of Lead Forensics putting 1,000 leads through email sequences using Hubspot. Not one sale,” said my reluctant email writing student, a successful entrepreneur. We’ll call him Jason to protect his identity.

“Before that, I hired a cold calling team. It was a one year effort. Zero sales. They gave a second effort on the house. That landed one sale that covered my costs.”

“Nothing is working,” outside of occasional referrals. But Jason’s successful, 22 year-old business can no longer rely on word-of-mouth alone.

He was frustrated. But not done. After all, he launched and is successfully operating this business for over two decades. He has what it takes. But he needs to grow.

Prospecting new customers is the lifeblood of his company. Always has been, always will be. Those are his words, not mine! Sure “inbound marketing” is trendy and, for some, it generates conversations with potential buyers.

But so far his HubSpot email templates have failed to engage customers in conversations.

“I need to increase gross sales … and I need a better process for doing that,” Jason told me. But, at the time, he was terribly reluctant to invest in email writing coaching.

Jason’s Blind Spots

Every seller has blind spots; portions of an email message we cannot see creating big problems. Because we are the source of these poisonous tendencies, they are difficult to spot. Bad word choice. Weak tone. Persuasive hooks.

I have blind spots. You do. We all do. And not just with email. In life!

The key to starting more conversations, using email, is spotting and fixing blind spots. Here is one of the most common examples: Biased “hook” questions.

In Jason’s case, he dripped six emails to organizations identified as visiting his website. Companies like Lead Forensics help identify the company, but the rest is rather like guesswork … trying to understand who within the company visited.

Once targeted, Jason was sending the six messages — seeking conversations with prospects. He used HubSpot to send and analyze open and response rates.

Jason’s messages were all problematic. But his third HubSpot email template asked these “hook” questions:

“Many companies have a product development process that follows a similar schedule year after year. Is that the case in your business? When a pattern exists, it is much easier to plan for the slow time as well as when things get completely crazy. If there is no pattern what do you do when more projects land on your desk than you can handle?”

These kinds of questions are typical in my experience as an email writing coach. Hook questions. Leading questions. Questions that “push on pain points.” Questions marketing people often write, hand to sales people and say, “try this approach.”

Big mistake. Persuasive tone and hook questions equals instant death in sales prospecting emails. Aiming to persuade targets to have a meeting is mostly a non-starter. This goal is a complete non-starter for B2B sellers of complex, longer sale-cycle products and services.

If you need to start a conversation, asking for a meeting (without being invited into one … based on a value-added conversation) is a great way to get rejected and/or secure meetings that go nowhere.

The Problem With Hooks

“Is that the case in your business?” and the other (above) questions communicate “I’m asking because I want you to confirm (for me) what I’m sure is your problem — so I can sell you something.”

These are hooks. Customers aren’t fish. Hence, they don’t bite.

Answering one of these questions will make early stage customers (with latent need) feel too vulnerable. Result: They don’t answer and increasingly hit delete. (or worse, spam … an even faster way to unsubscribe!)

Hook questions are biased to an answer the seller seeks. They are rooted in Jason’s  —  or any salesperson’s  — desire to “open the door” to a sales discussion.

Instead, Jason should be asking questions with inward focus … helping the client examine his/her decision-making process with regard to possible change. He should be asking questions about, for example, how the status quo was created.

What works is simple: Focusing clients on change they might direct — on their own terms, on their own schedules, if they decided it was appropriate and, possibly, with the help of a vendor like Jason.

Success demands you gain permission to help prospects decide on a meeting themselves. Thus, your email message templates must help prospects persuade themselves. Everything else fails.

However, it is impossible to have a 100% accurate perspective on communications effectiveness — unless you have trustworthy (and qualified) people giving honest feedback.

Finding your blind spots.

How Jason Fixed His HubSpot Email Templates

Within a few weeks, Jason got his drip sequence sorted and nabbed a lead. The response read:

Hi Jason-
Thanks for tracking me down. I am interested in your thoughts and am certainly open to discussing opportunities.

Philip W.

The target subsequently went on vacation … then “went dark” on Jason. But he’s still in hot pursuit as I write this.

Here’s how Jason earned the conversation: He asked an un-biased, inward-focused question … helping the prospect consider his own situation for a moment. This provoked thought, stood out from other email come-ons and encouraged Philip to read the next sentence.

Jason opened by asking, “How would you know if (and when) it’s time to consider a different or additional product development path?”

He asked a neutral question. Questions are dangerous (in general). But this question is neutral to Jason’s natural bias.

His second sentence (of three) was, “I’m asking after noticing the innovative baby bed on your site … Are you open to considering a conversation about change — if it is the right time?”

Notice how short this approach is. Notice how customer-centric the questions are — and how the seller does not discuss himself whatsoever. Most importantly, the question posed is not a self-serving marketing hook. Instead, it’s provocative.

Want to stand out from the pack? Write messages in ways others aren’t. This way. Write messages that do not serve you — as much as they serve (and provoke) the reader.

Who Is Helping You Find Blind Spots?

Sadly, people who support us rarely give brutally honest feedback. They usually have a horse in the race and tell us what we want to hear — rather than what we need to know. Increasingly, we take free advice from experts who aren’t experts at all.

Are your co-workers, marketing team, software vendors, friends, spouse and Uncle Google really the best sources to get sales outreach advice from?

Beware: Do writers of articles you’ve Google’ed have your best interest in mind? Or are they just offering simple answers to complex problems — as part of their lead generation ploy?

In most cases, no. Think about it this way: Jason has been driving sales outreach without checking blind spots. You wouldn’t drive a car that way. It’s too dangerous.

So why drive your outreach this way? It could be costing you a lot of money.

How will you find a better way to start client conversations?

 

What Does a Successful Content Marketing Website Do?

Your website has a tough job. It must appeal to your site visitors in a way that encourages engagement and moves those visitors toward action, and it must do this without necessarily knowing anything about your visitors when they first arrive. Once a visitor has been to the content marketing site or connected with you via social media or email, you have much more information to work with — assuming you have good CRM and marketing automation tools in place.

content marketingCheck out even more about personalization and artificial intelligence with FUSE Enterprise.

Your website has a tough job. It must appeal to your site visitors in a way that encourages engagement and moves those visitors toward action, and it must do this without necessarily knowing anything about your visitors when they first arrive.

Once a visitor has been to the content marketing site or connected with you via social media or email, you have much more information to work with — assuming you have good CRM and marketing automation tools in place.

But even without that information, your site needs to do the following:

  • Address prospects’ problems
  • Educate
  • Demonstrate your experience and expertise
  • Prove effectiveness of your solutions
  • Build trust
  • Provide a way to reach you

With all that is required of an effective marketing website, the planning and strategy that go into the site before the first line of code is written will have an enormous impact on how well your site performs. The tips below will make the process more productive.

Define Success

It often helps to begin at the end: Define what constitutes success. Is success adding a new subscriber to your email list? Getting a prospect to call or request contact with a sales person? Or is it actually completing the sale right there on the site?

If you know what you are hoping to achieve, you can design the site with that goal in mind. Or, we should say, with those goals in mind, because you’re likely to have multiple success points.

Adopt the Proper Perspective

Your site needs to be organized, written and focused on the world from your prospect’s perspective. Your organizational chart doesn’t matter. Nor do your mission, vision, values or your founder’s inspiration.

At least, not at first.

All these things will help bring your brand to life once prospects have been convinced that your solutions can help solve their problems.

Until then, though, nothing about you matters. So make sure your pages dedicated to early-funnel prospects are all about them.

Answer the Right Questions

You know the questions your clients and prospects ask. (If you don’t, stop reading and sit down with your front-line sales people and customer service reps. Their knowledge is going to help your marketing more than I possibly could.) Make sure your website answers those questions and, wherever possible, digs deeper to answer the questions your prospects don’t yet know to ask. This is a critical link in the chain from casual visitor to a prospect who is comfortable enough to engage with you more deeply.

Ask for Action

Every page of your website should lead naturally toward one thing: the next step in the buyer’s journey. That might simply be the next page on the site, subscribing to an email, downloading a white paper or eventually reaching out for contact with your sales team.

The difficult task here is balancing the need to maintain this tight focus while also presenting the visitor with reasonable options for their next steps. Again, planning and strategy will determine what those options should be and how they should be presented.

If you’re successful at defining success, moving prospects toward that end goal and giving them opportunities to engage and commit, you will have created all the elements for success. You’ll have a content marketing site that converts visitors to subscribers, subscribers to leads and leads to clients.

Learn even more about the convergence of technology and branded content at the FUSE Enterprise summit. Artificial intelligence and personalization will be featured among many other techniques and technologies.

 

Optimizing Your Bing Ads Campaign: The Basics

Bing’s search engine market share has grown to 21 percent. Google is still your best bet for reaching the largest number of customers, but to neglect your Bing Ads campaigns is a mistake. Fortunately, optimizing campaigns in Bing Ads is similar to the process of auditing your Google AdWords campaigns. Read on to learn more about the basics of optimizing in Bing Ads.

Optimize - Improving ResultsThere’s no denying that Google is the undisputed king of search engine advertising, and the potential reach of Microsoft’s search platform pales in comparison. However, Bing’s popularity is rising.

In late 2015, Comscore reported that Bing’s search engine market share had grown to 21 percent (Google accounts for 64 percent), probably because of Bing’s incorporation into Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile and Surface devices. Google is still your best bet for reaching the largest number of customers, but to neglect your Bing Ads campaigns is a mistake — one that grows bigger by the day.

Fortunately, optimizing campaigns in Bing Ads is similar to the process of auditing your Google AdWords campaigns. Some of the reports and user options are different, but the general tenants are the same. Read on to learn more about the basics of optimizing in Bing Ads.

Running Reports — Know Your Options

Just like the first step of cooking is to gather your ingredients, the first step of optimizing is to collect your data. Bing Ads provides the following reports with uniquely beneficial information:

  • Performance reports: Track the overall performance of your efforts at the account, campaign, ad group, ad and keyword levels. See important metrics such as your CTRs and impressions.
  • Change history reports: Want to revisit how you’ve changed your campaigns over time? Just run these reports to see your change history.
  • Targeting reports: See which audiences your campaigns are reaching.
  • Campaign analytics reports: Designed to aid conversions, these reports help you understand how visitors are interacting with your website’s landing page.
  • Billing and budget reports: Good for accounting, these reports offer the nuts-and-bolts of your campaign spending and billing over time.

It’s a good idea to regularly generate each type of report. Each report type can be customized to highlight the most relevant data for your needs, and you can also schedule automated reports that hit your email as attachments.

Pump Up Low Impressions

Is your campaign getting unusually low impressions? This could be happening for several reasons, most of which relate to your keywords. Open the keyword list for your underperforming ad group and look for keyword disapprovals and low keyword bids. Bing’s reviewers sometimes disapprove keywords based on landing page relevance or various compliance rules. And sometimes, you just need to bid more.

Negative keywords might also be hindering your ad’s visibility. Negative keywords can save you lots of money by filtering out visitors who wouldn’t be likely to convert on your landing page, but misusing negative keywords can have the opposite impact.

Or it could be that people who are seeing your ad just aren’t interested. Try changing up your ad copy, and run a targeting report to make sure you’re reaching the right audience.

Reverse Low Clickthrough Rates

If your ad is getting plenty of views but not many clicks — which you can see in your performance report — then you must make your ad more compelling. Define what makes your business special, include an irresistible offer and give a call to action (i.e. “Contact Us for a Free Estimate”). Compare your ad with competing ads for insights about what you’re missing. You can also experiment with dynamic text, which plugs the actual terms people search for directly into your ads.

Capturing Conversions

The whole point of online advertising is getting conversions on your landing page. If visitors are reaching your site but not taking your desired action — whether that’s making a purchase or filling out a contact form — then that’s a problem.

The Universal Event Tracking tool is Bing’s version of conversion tracking. This tool generates a pixel that you place in the code throughout your website — then, you can run a campaign analytics goals report to see how visitors move through your site. From this, you can get invaluable insights about who converts versus who bounces.

Bing Ads lets you include dynamic text in your destination URLs, sending visitors to landing pages that specifically target their needs. The findings in your campaign analytics goals report might also reveal keywords or ad copy variations that aren’t capturing the right audiences.

Prepare for Editorial Reviews

Bing Ads has several compliance regulations enforced through its editorial review process. The purpose of this process is to maintain a high degree of quality across the Bing Ads search network. You may see real-time alerts requiring you to change your ads and keywords as you optimize, or a recently revised campaign may be tagged with an editorial disapproval. Most disapprovals are easily correctable and not a cause for long-term concern. As an advertiser, though, you should periodically familiarize yourself with Bing Ads’ policies.

Summary

Optimizing Bing Ads campaigns can result in greater revenues and fewer losses — and in business, both outcomes are great for your bottom line. Resist pouring all your efforts into Google Adwords, and remember that Bing Ads is actually growing at a faster rate. Microsoft is committed to integrating Bing into its latest computing and smartphone products. You can capitalize on that by reaching a sizeable audience with economical costs per click, but only if you put in the effort.

Want more digital marketing tips? Click here to get the Internet Marketing Survival Guide.

5 SEO Tools Every Business Must Use to Be Successful

Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured, gets improved.” That’s true with everything, especially search engine optimization. There’s simply no way to improve your SEO results unless you’re using the right measurement tools.

SearchEd Note: Don’t miss today’s webinar with Phil Frost: “5 Rules for Winning in the New World of Search” where he’ll explain what you need to do (and what you need to avoid!) to get your website ranking high in Google!

Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured, gets improved.”

That’s true with everything, especially search engine optimization (SEO). There’s simply no way to improve your SEO results unless you’re using the right measurement tools.

What exactly do you need to measure? Just rankings right? Wrong! Rankings are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to monitoring your SEO efforts. That’s why I put together this list of 5 tools that every business needs to be successful with SEO.

As you’ll see, each tool provides an answer to a critical SEO question. That’s the key takeaway. Regardless of the exact tools you use, you must be able to answer the five questions below …

1. Are Your SEO Traffic and Conversions Trending Up or Down?

You’ll notice the first question is not about your search engine rankings. More important than rankings is the amount of traffic and conversions (leads and sales) you’re generating from SEO.

To measure your traffic and conversions from SEO, you’ll need to install Google Analytics, a powerful and completely free website analytics tool.

Once Google Analytics is installed properly on your website, then you’ll easily be able to report on and see if your search engine traffic is trending up or down. Plus, when you set up conversion tracking (aka Goals), then you’ll see how many conversions were generated directly from your SEO traffic.

2. Can Google Index Your Website Without Errors?

Before your website has a shot at ranking on the first page, Google must first crawl your website and store it in the search engine Index. During this process to index your website, Google could run into errors.

For example, Google may find broken links or pages that take too long to load. Some pages may be inadvertently telling Google to not index them by using what’s called a “noindex” tag. Lastly, it’s even possible for a website to completely block the Google bot from crawling the website, which means no pages would ever show up in the search results!

To identify errors like this, make sure you set up your Google Search Console account (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools). Once you set up your account, you’ll get alerts if Google finds errors on your website or if they issue your website a penalty that would hurt your rankings.

3. Are Your Rankings Improving?

First, it’s important to address a common misconception that all you need to do is check Google to find your rankings. I’ve talked to many business owners that check their rankings religiously by searching in Google.

Ever since Google started to personalize the search results, manually checking your rankings was no longer effective. In fact, it can be very misleading!