Has It Has Really Been a Quarter Century?

Early search marketers literally created on-the-fly the methodologies that are still in use today. Clever developers constantly wrote and marketed new tools that would gather the data more rapidly that we needed for deeper insights and better campaign performance.

Most early Internet marketers came into the online space accidentally. I was no exception. We all raised our hands at an opportune moment. We stepped off the edge into a void. For me, building a website seemed like a good way to increase the reach of a public relations client’s message. It was a good idea. It was 1995 — a quarter of a century ago. In fact, this good idea launched the second half of my marketing career, with a focus on search marketing.

Lots of Energy and Sharing

Early search marketers literally created on-the-fly the methodologies that are still in use today. Clever developers constantly wrote and marketed new tools that would gather the data more rapidly that we needed for deeper insights and better campaign performance.

There were numerous search engines and directories all vying for dominance, and Google wasn’t even founded until 1998. The big names were Alta Vista, Yahoo! As the industry has matured, it has lost the edginess of the early days. Today there are monoliths that dominate the search industry.

Early on, the sharing of information was essential. The industry grew through sharing what was online in forums like Webmaster World, in person at conferences bearing titles like Search Engine Strategies (that by the title alone clearly gave the prospective attendee a clear picture of what might be learned from attending), and in the written word through numerous online and print publications. I trained to be a college professor, albeit not in technology, but I jumped at any chance to teach/share with my colleagues (and anyone who would listen) my digital marketing insights and discoveries.

It was a wonderful heady ride, but for me the carousel of speaking and traveling came to an abrupt halt five-plus years ago when I returned home from a Pubcon in Las Vegas with my arthritic knees too painful to walk through the airport. I decided to hang up my spurs and stay at my desk and write instead of speaking at conferences; to travel less and train smaller groups.

Grateful for the Opportunity

An opportunity met my decision to focus on writing when I was approached to write a search marketing regular column for Target Marketing. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to continue having my voice heard without the stress and strain of travel. I will confess that writing a regular column has often forced me to think more deeply about strategies my clients might use — a bonus. I am grateful for this opportunity.

Not Yet Over

Writing a monthly column about search marketing is an excellent discipline, but it can be a distraction. I have found myself increasingly unwilling to let it distract me from other writing tasks. So, as you may have guessed, I am signing off. I am not gone yet, for I am working on a monograph on search and have other writing projects outlined that are calling me. For now, let me say thank you once again for listening to my conference panels and reading my columns.

Dare to Scare: What If ‘They’ Closed the Internet?

But what if “they” — starting with policymakers in this country — took the extreme step of mimicking Europe, eschewing third-party data collection and use, destroying all of the free content such data transfers pay for, and effectively put today’s open Web behind pay walls and data walls?

The fragmentation of the Internet is marching along.

Europe went all “opt-in” — effectively halting a significant part of the Internet’s financing mechanism all in the name of privacy, without fairly considering the social and economic ramifications on competition, diversity, and democracy. (Or worse, they considered these aspects — and shut it down, anyway.)

China (and most despotic countries) bar access to much Western content. Will Hong Kong be next? Meanwhile, many of these “closed” countries are active players in using digital channels to stoke up social division and to meddle in free nations’ democratic processes.

And then there’s the rest of the global Internet — and the organic, disruptive, and innovative way it is built, maintained, and paid for. Simply allowing data to flow to responsible uses, and enable such exchanges to finance news, apps, games, email, social platforms, video, niche content, and so many other content and conveniences it would be impossible to list them all.

But what if “they” — starting with policymakers in this country — took the extreme step of mimicking Europe, eschewing third-party data collection and use, destroying all of the free content such data transfers pay for, and effectively put today’s open Web behind pay walls and data walls?

Sound very elitist? It is. Sound anti-progressive? It’s that, too. Anti-commercial? You bet. Anti-competitive? Very much so. Anti-consumer? Oh yes, it’s that, too. The deleterious effects may be already underway.

And if we’re not careful, it may just happen in the country that is most responsible for building the Global Information Economy as we know it. What a travesty it would be to throw such leadership away.

A recent study — just looking at the app world — gives a glimpse of what’s at stake. Looking at just nine top-used mobile apps, consumers state they would value access to such content at approximately $173 billion per year — content that is free to them today, thanks to ad financing. Wow! Further, current ad revenue for these apps is a tiny fraction of these assigned values. So, net, there is a huge economic dividend to consumers (and the economy) because these funds stay in consumer pockets, or are spent elsewhere.

As we march forth on privacy-first, we must consider what could happen if such responsible data uses were shut down by short-sighted public policy. What if the result were a “dumb” Internet? There’s still time for U.S. leadership, pragmatism, and a sensible way forward.

The Cost of Marketing to the Wrong Consumer, and How to Get It Right

We all know that Internet marketing is easy and cheap. But regardless, marketing to the wrong retail customer can come at a high price. Here are some suggestions for how to keep your marketing judicious and well-targeted, so you’re reaching the right audience.

Internet marketing is easy and cheap. That’s all the more reason to use it judiciously, because the cost of marketing to the wrong retail customer can cost big. Here are some suggestions to make sure you’re targeting the right audiences.

Effectively used, marketing has the power to connect the right consumers with brands and turn them into loyal, repeat customers. But what happens when it’s not, and what’s the cost incurred? Bigger than you think — bad campaigns are deadly on a number of fronts. It’s not just lost sales. They result in lost loyalty and a confused target market. They can quickly alienate some of a retailer’s most valuable potential and current customers. That leads to further difficulty attracting and maintaining relationships with the very people who could have been your best customers, brand ambassadors or social media amplifiers.

Because it’s easier to reach out in today’s digital environment, retailers can more easily connect with their client base now than ever before, for better or worse. Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. It’s very easy to try a new type of campaign or use digital tools like social media, but it’s just as simple for poor planning and execution to lead to a negative result.

With the rise of digital marketplaces and the vast increase in shopper options, the way shoppers buy products has drastically changed. This means that retailers must regularly adjust, refine and improve their approaches to marketing. It’s critical to understand that just using the internet as a marketing tool isn’t enough —it’s easy to market in a tone-deaf manner. As with any other campaign, success depends on careful planning during every stage of development and the judicious use of accurate, current data and relevant analytics tools. When marketers don’t do this, they risk the consequences of directing their marketing initiatives at the wrong consumer. And there are far too many marketing strategies that don’t lead to the generation of value or a customer transaction.

What Sets Great Modern Marketing Campaigns Apart?

It starts with careful and thoughtful direction of resources involves gathering data, collecting and securely storing it, and effectively using analytics tools to derive useful, actionable insights that form and bolster relationships. Drilling down, certain qualities of effective marketing campaigns set them apart from other, less-successful efforts. Here are a few of the most important concepts for reliable, powerful and positive results:

  • Focus on a well-defined customer type: Great campaigns don’t cast too wide a net. Instead, they have a clear idea of whom they’re targeting.
  • Don’t worry about long-tail keywords: Unless your company can compete with the giants of your market segment — and giants of every segment, like Amazon — it’s best not to put too much stock in these keywords.
  • Emphasize qualified leads: A qualified, well-understood customer persona is much more than an email address. With a thoroughly developed customer profile, including data about budgeting and identity, companies have better results. This is one of many areas where powerful, effective analytics comes into play.
  • Align large and small details to the defined personas: A strong campaign should feel relevant, attractive, focused and engaging to its recipients.
  • Segment your database, continually: Building the difference between prospective and existing customers into targeted variations of the same campaign, for example, helps retailers realize the best results. Continually segmenting databases through the use of effective big data and analytics tools is one difference that sets retail leaders apart from the rest of the pack.
  • Properly value existing customers: You already have a stronger relationship with existing and past customers than with potential ones. An incentive like a coupon or discount — with the exact terms defined in part through analytics and big data — is often enough to secure a new purchase.
  • Gather feedback: Valuable intelligence about your products, customer service and brand experience comes from social media and many other online communities. Retailers need to be where their customers congregate online, then gather feedback for review by staff and use in automated analysis.
  • Build emotional connections: Lasting, meaningful connections with core customers are more important than customer service in many instances. Building these relationships means encouraging purchasing over the long term. Consider these examples:
    • Target determined it was too narrowly labeling bedding and toys for children based on gender. Taking changing attitudes about gender fluidity into account, the retailer stopped marketing based on gender. It now markets bedding and toys with a more inclusive strategy.
    • Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would stop selling assault rifles and raise its minimum age for purchasing firearms to 21. CEO Edward Stack decided this would provide an overall benefit and strengthen bonds with customers throughout all of its product lines.

A large part of the fine-tuning involves drawing on the power of data and analytics to ensure they can move at the speed of the modern consumer and connect to them effectively. Many aggressive, short-term campaigns use crowdsourcing, social media and apps to build strong, short-term connections. Carried out properly, these efforts increase positive sentiment among the customers you know are interested in shopping with your company. This turns the digital world into an invaluable public space in which businesses can interact with customers, using existing and custom-built tools to quickly and efficiently reach them. The costs of marketing to the wrong consumer are both clear and substantial. So focus on your current and prospective customers and leverage big data and analytics tools to market to the right ones.

Penguin 3.0 Is Coming and It’s Time to Clean House

Anyone who’s involved in Internet marketing can tell you that Penguin is more than a cute little seabird that lives in Antarctica. The Penguin 2.0 algorithm was released by Google in October 2013 and basically penalized websites for having unnatural, irrelevant, low-quality, spammy backlinks. Those that may come from link farms or sites that pay for backlinks.

Anyone who’s involved in Internet marketing can tell you that Penguin is more than a cute little seabird that lives in Antarctica.

The Penguin 2.0 algorithm was released by Google in October 2013 and basically penalized websites for having unnatural, irrelevant, low-quality, spammy backlinks. Those that may come from link farms or sites that pay for backlinks.

The “penalty” Google issued directly affected the website’s search engine results ranking and website traffic, which of course would affect the company’s sales and lead generation efforts. So needless to say, this little bird was devastating to some businesses.

If you’re not sure if your site’s traffic was affected by Penguin, you can visit this free tool to see if in fact your website traffic had dropped in correlation with the time of Penguin’s 2.0 release: http://reconsideration.org/penalty-tool/

Now with talk of Penguin’s big brother, 3.0, coming down the pipeline, it’s prudent to do a link audit on your website to avoid possible fallout.

So where do you start?

You can check your own website’s backlinks to ensure those sites that are linking to you are relevant and synergistic to your own site’s content.

To do this, you can use several free backlink checkers, such as: http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/,http://www.backlinkwatch.com/, or http://www.iwebtool.com/backlink_checker .

You can also go into Google’s Webmaster Tools and select your website.

Then, go down the list and see who’s linking to you. This may be laborious, but well worth it. Sites like Removeem.com have free “predictor” tools, where you can see how many bad links your website may have. And it also offers paid-for self-service and full-service link removal options.

Next, it’s literally a manual process of visiting the “bad” link’s website and contacting its representatives to remove the link going to your site. If there’s several “bad links,” it’s best to create a form letter. According to searchenginewatch.com, the letter should state that you are a website owner trying to recover from a Google penalty and would like the following links removed. Then, list the URLs where the links can be found, the URL on your site they point to, the anchor text ─ all the info needed to easily find the link you’re requesting be removed.

Sometimes, it’s easy to find contact information of “bad links.” You simply visit the site and can find email or similar information in the footer or “Contact Us” area of the website.

Other times it’s harder, and you may need to engage in some free tools to help determine a bad link’s website owner. According to searchenginewatch.com, 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 find that Google’s last Penguin update has affected your website and you believe there may have been an error of some sort, there is a form on Google you can fill out to pinpoint search terms that you believe you shouldn’t be penalized for.

Just remember, when it comes to SEO backlinks, it’s all about quality not quantity. Relevance is key. As long as you keep it lean and clean, all should be fine when our little seabird friend comes to visit again.