Using SEO Profitably Is All About Tactics and Timing

Are you using SEO profitably? The fourth quarter is already well underway, and the holiday season with Black Friday and Cyber Monday is hard upon us. For retailers and many e-commerce merchants, this is make-it-or-break-it time. Will this be a good year or one to regret?

Are you using SEO profitably? The fourth quarter is already well underway, and the holiday season with Black Friday and Cyber Monday is hard upon us. For retailers and many e-commerce merchants, this is make-it-or-break-it time. Will this be a good year or one to regret?

A successful season is really the final constellation of many interconnected tactical plans — the merchandise must be what the customer is looking for and the marketing and distribution must bring the merchandise and consumer together in a timely fashion.

SEO is by now deeply engrained in retail strategies, but the annual SEO planning process varies from site to site. As the year closes out, now is the time to review your plans. Did everything come together in a timely fashion? What changes in tactics or timing should you consider?

Don’t wait until the start of the new year, for you will already be behind. Here are some thoughts on what not to miss.

Technical Changes Must Be Done First

If your annual SEO plan is like most, it will include technical changes and enhancements that are designed to improve search and the customer experience. After 30 years (no, you did not read that wrong!) in technology, it has been my experience that technical changes almost never are completed with enough time for live shakedown cruises.

This is not necessarily the fault of the development staff. It is inherent in the complexity of the tasks. Deadlines are often slipped, or unforeseen problems arise.

With search, the problem is compounded. The plan must include adequate time to ensure that the changes were made correctly, that the site is crawled and that the technical SEO works. This is one of those times, when to go slow is to go fast.

Keywords Must Be Done Before Content

In 2018, keywords and content are the drivers of search. How often do you review your keywords? When was the last time you pruned or added to the list?

Keyword lists are dynamic and must reflect both changes in language and business focus. Some words simply fall out of use or morph to new usages:

“Cellular phone” has shifted from referring to the phone to now referencing service plans for communicating with a “cellphone.”

E-commerce sites that deal in fashion must keep a steady eye on what is coming off the runway to their site and how it is referenced by fashion mavens.

It is my preference to review keywords on an annual basis, and plan to do a thorough renovation about every two years for established sites and more often for newer sites. This should be completed in advance or in coordination with content planning.

Fresh, relevant content is today the single best driver for search. Because your keywords establish the focus and language of the site, they should also drive the content. New content should be planned to support major revenue-generating keywords. Content gaps and voids should be identified and remedied.

This represents a substantial amount of work, and it must be planned and prioritized so that it fits with the tactical plan.

Just as technical changes need to be completed with adequate time for the search engines to crawl and index your changes, the new content must also go live with adequate time for crawling and relevancy determination.

Because search is an iterative process, it is helpful to give yourself enough of a planning cushion that you can readjust, refine and enhance the content based on how the pages rank.

Did I fail to mention that part of the SEO annual planning process is determining who and how success will be measured? This must also fit into the tactical planning process. It is time to get to work on that plan. I’m not going to wait for you to begin. I’ll be working on mine immediately.

Top Holiday Season Digital Trends

The holiday season is nearly in full swing. How will it be different than past seasons? The most striking difference is not in what consumers are buying, it’s how they are shopping. Consumers have been gravitating toward digital over the past decade, but this year, shoppers have indicated that they will pass a new threshold.

The holiday season is nearly in full swing. How will it be different than past seasons? The most striking difference is not in what consumers are buying, it’s how they are shopping.

Consumers have been gravitating toward digital over the past decade, but this year, shoppers have indicated that they will pass a new threshold. For the first time, they anticipate making the majority (51 percent) of their holiday purchases online, according to a study by Synchrony Financial*. This has been steadily increasing over the past three years, up from 47 percent in 2015 and 49 percent last year.

Synchrony Holiday Season Shopping StatsWhich devices will they be using to make these purchases? Consumers indicate that one in five holiday purchases will be made on their mobile device. So, not only is shopping trending toward online purchases, many shoppers are planning to do it on-the-go.

Shoppers like mobile because, quite frankly, it’s easy and always around. The mobile device is with the shopper continuously. Whether riding on a bus, waiting in line for coffee or binge watching your favorite Netflix show. If you think of the perfect gift for Aunt Helen, you can order it immediately. And, not to worry about keeping track of your purchases — half of mobile shoppers say they use mobile because they can easily view the confirmation in their email.

And, discount hunting via mobile is ubiquitous. More than one-third (36 percent) of shoppers say they will shop via mobile during the holiday season because they can more easily link their email offers and coupons to their purchases. So, bargain hunters don’t have to worry about missing out on a good deal. The ability to scan available coupons and download offers gives shoppers confidence that they are getting the best price.

With the ease of shopping online and the widespread availability of next-day shipping, consumers may be less rushed to get their shopping done early this holiday season. Only 44 percent of consumers say they will be shopping earlier this year. Last year, 53 percent said they would be shopping earlier than in the past.

And, shoppers are less likely to be “hunting for a deal” on specific days like Thanksgiving, Black Friday or Cyber Monday. This is perhaps due to the prevalence of deal hunting throughout the season. Consumers have been less hooked on shopping on specific days, if they are certain they can find the best price on any given day.

How are retailers responding to these trends? One way is having websites that are optimized no matter which device consumers use — laptop, tablet or mobile. Retailers are spending time and resources building websites that are easy to navigate and intuitive. The experience is important — the top reason shoppers delete a retailer app is due to poor functionality, according to the Synchrony Financial 2017 Digital Study.

Also, shipping will be a big element of the online shopping experience this year. Many retailers have graduated from two- to three-day shipping to one-day, or next-day shipping. And, since shoppers say they will be shopping later in the season, this will be a big deal this year.

Finally, and perhaps most important, bargain hunting remains a key ingredient in the shopping habits of consumers, whether they are early bargain hunters or last minute deal seekers. The ability to check product reviews, compare prices and use coupons is a key part of the holiday shopping experience. If the consumer can do it all on one website, great! If not, off they go to the next retailer.

* Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents from the Synchrony Financial 2017 Pre-Holiday Study unless otherwise noted.

5 Ways to Make Holiday Email More Productive

If your email inbox is anything like mine, the recent influx of messages is overwhelming. Not only are you hearing from your direct contacts, you’re also getting a lot more partner emails and yes, spammers. Below are five productivity improvements for your own email campaigns.

If your email inbox is anything like mine, the recent influx of messages is overwhelming. Not only are you hearing from your direct contacts, but you’re also getting a lot more partner emails and yes, spammers. Below are five productivity improvements for your own email campaigns.

Opts Outs Will Increase — Here’s How to Lessen Them

As every company increases its email output during the holidays, many of us start to cull the companies we receive emails from. We opt out. Do we really need two emails a day from XYZ company? You search for the “Unsubscribe” link hidden at the bottom of most emails and click it.

The smart companies use an email preference center. An email preference center is simply a landing page that gives the subscriber options. They can update their email address, choose which type of emails they want or opt out forever. Take advantage of this page by asking subscribers about the frequency of emails, especially if you have multiple product lines or email lists; ask what products they want emails about.

When emails are pouring into our inboxes this holiday season, you can reduce your opt-out rates by giving recipients control over what you send and how often. Fifty-four percent of subscribers leave because you sent too many emails, while 47 percent say they need to decrease the number of companies they get emails from.

If you want to dig deep and improve your email preference center, HubSpot has an info-rich blog post, “28 Quick Tips for Customizing Your Email Preference Center”, that is well worth the read.

Think Mobile First

These stats from 2015 prove this point best: 76 percent of Black Friday emails and 63 percent of Cyber Monday emails were opened on a mobile device. Additionally, 56 percent of searches during the holiday season were conducted on a mobile device, according to Movable Ink. The same stats for 2016 will be even more impressive.

Remember, your recipients are weeding through emails on their smartphones and saving interesting emails to read later on their desktop computer. Design your emails for mobile (they’ll look fine on a PC), keep them short and put the most important content toward the top. Subject lines on mobile emails become even more important — make them short enough to fit in the preview of a smartphone. It’s wise to test this on multiple devices.

Target Cart Abandoners

Studies show the average shopping cart abandonment rate is approximately 73.9 percent. The good news is that 72 percent who do make the purchase after abandoning their carts do so within 24 hours. But others can take as long as two weeks.

fultzpic1Many potential online buyers purposely abandon their shopping carts. They’re looking to collect coupons or to wait for offers that are sent to try to close the sale.

To target cart abandoners, you’ll need to consider your email schedule, images of the abandoned items, offers/discounts to bring them back and lastly, adding or emphasizing a guarantee. These prospects are low-hanging fruit just waiting to be picked.

Create a Sense of Urgency

Urgency is a powerful psychological motivator — this is Direct Response 101. Deadlines work. They compel your customers to take the next step.

“One-Day Sale” or “Only Available to the First 100 Buyers” or “Sale Ends December 24 at 5:00 p.m.” all can prompt more conversions. Long-time mailers know this too well. We’ve used urgency and deadlines to great effect long before email even existed. Email marketers can learn a lot from reviewing snail mail packages from today and yesterday.

Test Your Code

Assuming your segmenting is good, your creative and offers should resonate with shoppers. Testing your code for the most popular inboxes and devices is then the last — and the most important — step. Use an email preview application like Email On Acid, Litmus and PreviewMyEmail to send your email through test accounts to see how different email applications, browsers and computer platforms present your email to recipients. If you are using an ESP (email service provider) like MailChimp, Emma or Vertical Response, you can use their pretested templates. But be aware, if you play with their code, you could easily “break” them.

fultzgif
Email On Acid previewing of code in multiple browsers and platforms

The Bottom Line

With emails, the phrase “test, test, test” is particularly pertinent. Not only do you need to test your segmentation, offers, subject lines and preheaders, you need to design for mobile, test your code and be prepared for opt-outs and cart abandoners. But do not fear — there are many people and tools to help you.

Happy Holidays!

Bah Humbug on Black Friday Emails

Congratulations if you survived another Thanksgiving with family. It can be a wonderful time of year, or contentious, depending on the circumstances. Also congrats if your inbox survived Black Friday. I’m still cleaning mine up, which is not easy with all the Cyber Monday emails hitting me left and right.

Congratulations if you survived another Thanksgiving with family without some sort of verbal fist fight breaking out over politics or the proper way to carve a turkey. It can be a wonderful time of year, or contentious, depending.

Also congrats if your inbox survived Black Friday. I’m still cleaning mine up, which is not easy with all the Cyber Monday emails hitting me left and right.

Because I’m a nerd for numbers, I applied some search parameters to see what really DID end up in my inbox. Then I made a chart. Stop laughing at me.

Melissa's Black Friday InboxBetween Nov. 1 and Nov. 27, I received 127 emails with “Black Friday in the subject line. The chart above breaks it down by percentage received by date (and yes, I clumped Nov. 1-Nov. 14 together, since most of those days I received maybe 1-2 Black Friday emails tops).

Amazon emailed me the most, taking up 13.4 percent of my Black Friday inbox overall (from Nov. 1-27, and 10.3 percent of my Black Friday inbox on the actual day (Nov. 25). NewEgg came in second, and JCPenney third (Fun fact: I probably haven’t ordered anything from JCPenney since 2013).

Now, as I look at these numbers, everything seems fairly reasonable. But here’s the thing: Over the holiday while visiting my family for 4 days, I felt like this every time I picked up my phone:

Too Many EmailsOkay, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but I think at one point it got up to 36 unread emails. And what did I do? I cleared them all out, sometimes opening a message to see if there was a good deal, and usually not finding much beyond 20 percent off … which, c’mon! That’s a typical discount.

But maybe it’s just me. According to the National Retail Federation, 44 percent of consumers shopped online for Black Friday (while 40 percent trekked out to stores), and Millennials — my generation — helped to drive the increase in Black Friday sales. And according to information from an Adobe report, Black Friday online sales grew 17.7 percent over 2015, hitting $5.27 billion.

Black Friday Sales MemeLook, I can be sassy about this because it’s me. Again, I realize the days between Black Friday and Cyber Monday are huge for retailers … but as I mentioned, the Black Friday “preview” emails started Nov. 1 for me.

I really don’t need 28 days worth of “Ooh look! Online deals! Buy them now!” emails. And having my inbox hammered for almost an entire month made me numb to most emails … I swiped left so many times to archive things I almost accidentally swiped my aunt’s email right out of my inbox.

Maybe I’m jaded because I’m familiar with how this all works. Maybe I’m burned out on unimaginative email copy and the same old bland offers. Either way, I say Bah Humbug to Black Friday. Give me #GivingTuesday … at least then the money I drop can go do some good in the world.

Don’t ‘Cyber’ Your Customers

Dear Baked by Melissa: We may share a name, but you obviously missed the bus when it came to writing appropriate — and relevant — Cyber Monday subject lines. Shame on you. Bad marketer, bad!

While many of us enjoyed loafing around our family homesteads this past holiday weekend, eating too much food and getting into too many political arguments with uncles, most of our inboxes got quite the workout between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

And while I did most of my holiday shopping on Small Business Saturday, I still kept an eye on my inbox, just to see if any good deals in general popped up. Sadly, I was grossed out by one email in particular.

Melissa Ward's Cyber Monday Inbox
Just … gross.

Though it might be a little hard to see (click on the image and it’ll open larger and you’ll get a peek into my life and email), the above image shows my inbox displaying all Cyber Monday emails that used the word “cyber” in the subject line. I received more than 20 between Sunday evening and 2:30 p.m. Monday afternoon. Most are pretty standard, and then you have the email from Baked by Melissa (seen in bold).

“Let’s Cyber…” are you freaking kidding me???!

Grossed out Emma Stone gif

Opening the email — though in my mind’s eye Baked by Melissa didn’t deserve the open — you get this benign email. Oh, and look … they were cute with the preheader text: “…Monday, that is.”

BakedbyMelissaemail

Sigh. I want to know who at this NYC-based bakery thought this was a good idea. Mini cupcakes are not sexual in nature. And don’t get me wrong; I can appreciate a well-crafted, provocative subject line. But this isn’t.

The product and overall email message doesn’t match up with the subject line. Instead it feels like a cheap grab at being a little sexy/naughty, but it’s about as sexy as the back corner of a Spencer’s Gifts (remember those shops in the mall?).

And to add insult to injury, Baked by Melissa’s Cyber Monday deal is barely a deal: a complimentary gift box with any order of 50 or 100 cupcakes.

John Green Who Cares reaction gifBaked by Melissa: I expect better from a bakery that shares my name and passion for butter and sugar. You’re on notice, and if I see you acting up again, you’re not invited into my inbox. I don’t have time for cheap marketing ploys.