4 Ways to Make Your Website Work Better

“Make your website work better than what?” you might ask. Better than it has. Better than it will if you decide to make changes or build a new site based on some vague notion that the site isn’t working now.

“Make your website work better than what?” you might ask. Better than it has. Better than it will if you decide to make changes or build a new site based on some vague notion that the site isn’t working now.

1. Define Success

Moving past vague notions means finding out what really is and is not working on your website. Which in turn means defining what the website is supposed to accomplish. Without the end goal in mind, you may as well stick with vague notions, because solid data can only lead the way if you know where you want to go.

2. Dive Into the Data

Once you have defined your goals its time to dive into the data that will provide you the ability to do a real quantitative examination of your site.

For most sites, Google Analytics data is all the data you’ll ever need. I have written elsewhere about the most basic analytics data points to track, so don’t let the overwhelming amount of information stop you in your tracks. (And I’m happy to chat with you if you have questions about diving deeper.)

The data should provide insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your website — what areas to double down on and what you need to shore up.

3. Prospect Perspective

Once you’ve established that quantitative framework you have to decide what to do with the data you’ve found. In other words, the quantitative information leads to some qualitative questions. For example, data on how long a visitor spends on your site and how many pages the average visitor views naturally lead to questions about how to get visitors to stay longer and view more pages.

One of the surest ways to increase engagement is to double- and triple-check that your website is written and presented from a prospect’s perspective. Your firm’s internal org chart or product lines aren’t typically going to matter to a prospect. Instead, arrange the information on your site to answer all of a prospect’s questions in one place.

For example, rather than separating services completely from case studies, the services pages should include sidebar links to the case studies most relevant to that service. The goal is to bring they information to the visitor, not to make them figure out your website’s organizational logic.

Be sure that you’re taking into account not just their interests, but also their timing. You’ll need different types of content for prospects who are just beginning their journey and prospects who are much closer to making a decision.

4. Focus on Benefits and Outcomes

Laundry detergent bottles don’t tout “20% more alcohol ethoxylate!” They tout 20 percent more whitening power. You need to follow the same pattern because no-one really cares about the process; they care about the outcome. Focusing on benefits and outcomes is another part of marketing with the prospect’s perspective in mind.

However, the laundry detergent packaging also offers a cautionary tale: nobody believes “better” anymore. We’re so inundated with advertising claims, that even with “proof” in the form of hard data, we’re dubious of all claims we can’t see with our own eyes.

Focus instead on differentiators and you remove the good/better/best evaluation from the equation. You still have to back up your differentiation claims with evidence in order to best your competitors, but building credibility for that comparison should be easier.

Hype or Opportunity? 

Marketers today face the huge challenge of creating the right program mix to meet their brand objectives. It’s difficult to balance the risk of new investments against the budget support needed to continue in proven channels. But it could be even riskier to wait too long to test or adopt some of the newer opportunities that emerge with oppressive regularity.

Marketers today face the huge challenge of creating the right program mix to meet their brand objectives. It’s difficult to balance the risk of new investments against the budget support needed to continue in proven channels. But it could be even riskier to wait too long to test or adopt some of the newer opportunities that emerge with oppressive regularity.

The bounty of options makes planning more complicated and can thinly stretch even the largest of budgets across a wide array of team efforts. Each team effort must be supported with planning, development, distribution, optimization and reporting, all of which cost time and money. And though more options generally leads to more learning, it also creates more work — and sometimes even a dilution of impact upon prospects.

Some of those new opportunities will earn key positions in future campaigns via their proven contributions to specific objectives. But many will turn out to just be a shiny object that got its fifteen minutes of marketing fame and ate away your resources. One handy tool to help you hedge this high-stakes bet is the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Gartner has been publishing this annual review for many years. It considers emerging technologies in a way that best informs critical business investments. It offers brands distinct interpretations of real value versus hype, charted along a continuum marking the highs and lows of technology adoption over time.

The cycle begins with a peak of inflated expectations, tied to a wave of adoption and a lot of market attention, before negativity and failures lead to a trough of disillusionment. Then the real work begins: adapting best practices and methodologies that lead to higher productivity. Rinse and repeat.

Hype CycleThe 2016 Gartner Hype Cycle of emerging technologies highlights three big trends, including:

  1. Immersive Consumer Experiences, like virtual reality, smart materials and gesture controls
  2. Smart Machines and workspaces that foster the evolution of the Internet of Things and digitize physical objects to improve efficiencies.
  3. Technologies that connect to each other and synergize previously autonomous technologies and platforms.

Gartner actually publishes multiple hype cycles annually. Some of these cycle reports focus on particular technologies, so if you have an interest in a specific area of technology, you should do some further digging.

It is easy to see how today’s technological innovation can evolve into tomorrow’s marketing tool kit, but it’s not a quick, direct or easy journey. Watch for the phases of the hype cycle but also for the availability of tested vendors, channels or service partners to help ease your adoption. Most marketers are not equipped to leverage the raw technology on their own, so they search for partners with a tested offering that effectively employs the emerging technology. But this typically occurs in the later stages of the hype cycle, which in some cases may be too late.

So how do you know when it’s time to jump in, and how do you maximize the impact of your inherently risky choice?

  • Have clear goals and benchmarks in place, along with a time frame to assess whether this new initiative is achieving its function within your plan.
  • Know the difference between technology and marketing. Both have value but they are not interchangeable.
  • Don’t launch what you can’t measure.
  • Some endeavors are more labor and research intensive than others, or further outside of your comfort and experience levels. Weigh the effort expended against the potential return before embarking.
  • Build in additional time. New efforts always need additional launch time, QA time, etc.
  • Fund the effort appropriately. Just dipping your toe in may not return a realistic picture of the actual value.
  • Know what your team resources can support. Unduly stressing them can have unintended negative consequences on unrelated programs that had been running smoothly prior to the adoption.
  • Keep a balance in your budget of proven tactics, but also set aside a testing budget so as to continually learn and freshen your eye.
  • Don’t hang out on the bleeding edge unless your brand and your audience are already there. Not every new marketing opportunity will be a good fit.
  • Do your research. You can learn a lot from watching early adopters.

Success today favors the bold but informed. Make smart choices, and continually test and refresh your marketing mix. Maximize the opportunity and minimize the hype.

Rather Test or Guess?

“Make me a deal on a split run.” Of all the negotiating ploys we as marketers might consider, this simple sentence has more success-seeds than any of the fustian and fury we could force out of our bargaining-parleying fingertips. And a “Yes” answer from an understanding medium, which costs zilch, has to result in information far more profitable than even our top-of-the-line brainpower can match.

TM0810_searchglobe copy“Make me a deal on a split run.”

Of all the negotiating ploys we as marketers might consider, this simple sentence has more success-seeds than any of the fustian and fury we could force out of our bargaining-parleying fingertips. And a “Yes” answer from an understanding medium, which costs zilch, has to result in information far more profitable than even our top-of-the-line brainpower can match.

One assumption we certainly have enough professional knowledge to lean on: the circulation of the medium has at least a tenuous match with a logical buyer. Our prospects won’t think we’re approaching from the planet Mars.

For print media, a split run is easier to mount today than it ever has been since, some hundreds of years ago, we as marketers invaded the nooks and crannies of publishing. For direct mail, it’s a bonanza whose luster dimmed when direct radio and then direct television mussed up the turf. For online, it’s too natural and obvious to be regarded as an innovation.

The overriding interpretation of what we’re discussing is a single word: test.

If the notion of testing a direct appeal is foreign to you, call me or any of about fifty thousand other self-proclaimed marketing experts, and we’ll be glad to take advantage of your naiveté.

Or, if you’d rather, make one decision that has to be profitable: what to test.

The most common test element is price. What price represents the best addition to the bottom line? $19.99 may bring more orders, but $24.99 is more profitable. And in today’s wild marketplace, where 99 cents has almost universally replaced the venerable 95 cents, $24.99 just might bring in more responses than $19.99. What if we glamorize the offer? $29.99 versus $19.99? We can test to give us an answer.

(Sample example: a recent three-way test for a collectible priced the item at $15.49, $15.99, and $17.99. Which brought the highest total number of responses, not just dollars? Right. $17.99. I suspect because the product has a tie to tradition, $17.95 would have left $17.99 in the shade, but the testing impulse didn’t extend that far. Maybe next time.)

And easy? What test could be easier? Just be sure that each addressee gets just one distinct offer and the response code differs for each price.

“Seat of the pants” guesswork is old-fashioned and amateurish, and depending on the deal you can make with media or a lettershop, not an optimal investment in marketing.

Hmmm. Here’s a unisex jacket. Here’s a tablet computer. Here’s a DVD whose content dwarfs any approach to the business problem its content solves. Here’s an extraordinary assortment of dessert-goodies.

A true split is just one split-test: When an offer appears on our monitor, we can’t tell if it’s unique or part of a split run … that is, if the code doesn’t betray the technique.

What does that mean? Well, suppose you get an online offer from “Firearms.” Does that, emotionally and in your mind factually, differ from “Guns” or for that matter the singular, “Firearm”? What if the sender had split the subject line, sending to one group “Look out. This gun fires in both directions” and to a parallel group “Gigantic 75% discount, today only.” Even from this example, any of us can predict that response will be skewed by the difference in appeals. What we have is a message test, even though only the subject lines may differ.

6 Tips for Optimizing Google AdWords Keywords

SEO KeywordsOptimizing keywords is an ongoing task for anyone who uses Google AdWords. While there’s certainly a right way to research your initial keyword list, the simple truth is that no one knows for sure which keywords are going to perform the best until you test.

And that’s why we must optimize. Don’t panic if you realize that several of your keywords are underperforming — in online marketing, that’s par for the course. What matters more is that you constantly work on your keyword list to weed out the weak links. In the long run, this is how you’ll put your ads in front of the most appropriate, likely customers.

Here we’ll review the six most important tips when optimizing Google AdWords keywords lists.

1. Don’t Rush to Judgment
It’s tempting to hit the panic button when your ads go live and you don’t get the results you want. However, getting enough data to gauge the effectiveness of your keywords takes time. Even the best keywords have stretches when they’ll underperform. Nobody wants to spend money on ineffective advertising, but you won’t do yourself any favors by killing off keywords too soon.

Instead, relax and give your campaigns time to collect data. You’re better off setting a modest advertising budget if you’re worried about wasting money. But you can’t optimize your keywords without a good amount of data, and you won’t get that by making premature changes to your campaigns.

2. Find the Most Relevant Keywords
Everyone loves relevant keywords. Perfectly relevant keywords help online shoppers find the goods and services they want most, and that’s what makes Google’s search engine so valuable for Web users. And when Google rewards relevance with cheaper costs per click, then that’s great for online marketers like you — not to mention you’re more likely to connect with more customers.

Review your keyword list and add potential long-tail keywords, which are keyword phrases (often three to five words) that shoppers are likely to search for verbatim. Focus on buyer-intent keyword terms that include words such as “buy,” “find” or “deals,” these tend to be used by potential customers who are looking to make purchases. Focusing on relevance can help you convert your Web traffic into sales.

3. Make Sure Your Keywords are Relevant to Your Landing Pages
Sometimes, a perfectly viable keyword can be hamstrung by your website. When people who search for that keyword in Google click your ad, are you showing them the most relevant page of your site?

If your answer is “no,” then you have two options: You can revise your landing page content to be more relevant to your keyword, or you can move your keyword to a more appropriate ad group. The best way forward depends entirely on your keyword list. Be careful about making changes to your landing pages that might diminish the relevance of other strong performing keywords.

Patients Aren’t Ready for Treatment?

The key is to an effective prescription is to listen to the client first. Why do they lose sleep at night? What are their key success metrics? What are the immediate pain points? What are their long-term goals? And how would we reach there within the limits of provided resources

In my job of being “a guy who finds money-making opportunities using data,” I get to meet all kinds of businesspeople in various industries. Thanks to the business trend around analytics (and to that infamous “Big Data” fad), I don’t have to spend a long time explaining what I do any more; I just say I am in the field of analytics, or to sound a bit fancier, I say data science. Then most marketers seem to understand where the conversation will go from there. Things are never that simple in real life, though, as there are many types of analytics — business intelligence, descriptive analytics, predictive analytics, optimization, forecasting, etc., even at a high level — but figuring what type of solutions should be prescribed is THE job for a consultant, anyway (refer to “Prescriptive Analytics at All Stages”).

The key is to an effective prescription is to listen to the client first. Why do they lose sleep at night? What are their key success metrics? What are the immediate pain points? What are their long-term goals? And how would we reach there within the limits of provided resources and put out the fire at the same time? Building a sound data and analytics roadmap is critical, as no one wants to have an “Oh dang, we should have done that a year ago!” moment after a complex data project is well on its way. Reconstruction in any line of business is costly, and unfortunately, it happens all of the time, as many marketers and decision-makers often jump into the data pool out of desperation under organizational pressure (or under false promises by toolset providers, as in “all your dreams will come true with this piece of technology”). It is a sad sight when users realize that they don’t know how to swim in it “after” they jumped into it.

Why does that happen all of the time? At the risk of sounding like a pompous doctor, I must say that it is quite often the patient’s fault, too; there are lots of bad patients. When it comes to the data and analytics business, not all marketers are experts in it, though some are. Most do have a mid-level understanding, and they actually know when to call in for help. And there are complete novices, too. Now, regardless of their understanding level, bad patients are the ones who show up with self-prescribed solutions, and wouldn’t hear about any other options or precautions. Once, I’ve even met a client who demanded a neural-net model right after we exchanged pleasantries. My response? “Whoa, hold your horses for a minute here, why do you think that you need one?” (Though I didn’t quite say it like that.) Maybe you just came back from some expensive analytics conference, but can we talk about your business case first? After that conversation, I could understand why doctors wouldn’t appreciate patients who would trust WebMD over living, breathing doctors who are in front of them.

Then there are opposite types of cases, too. Some marketers are so insecure about the state of their data assets (or their level of understanding) that they wouldn’t even want to hear about any solutions that sound even remotely complex or difficult, although they may be in desperate need of them. A typical response is something like “Our datasets are so messy that we can’t possibly entertain anything statistical.” You know what that sounds like? It sounds like a patient refusing any surgical treatment in an ER because “he” is not ready for it. No, doctors should be ready to perform the surgery, not the patient.

Messy datasets are surely no excuse for not taking the right path. If we had to wait for a perfect set of data all of the time, there wouldn’t be any need for statisticians or data scientists. In fact, we need such specialists precisely because most data sets are messy and incomplete, and they need to be enhanced by statistical techniques.

Analytics is about making the best of what we have. Cleaning dirty and messy data is part of the job, and should never be an excuse for not doing the right thing. If anyone assumes that simple reports don’t require data cleansing steps because the results look simple, nothing could be further from the truth. Most reporting errors stem from dirty data, and most datasets — big or small, new or old — are not ready to be just plugged into analytical engines.

Besides, different types of analytics are needed because there are so many variations of business challenges, and no analytics is supposed to happen in some preset order. In other words, we get into predictive modeling because the business calls for it, not because a marketer finished some basic Reporting 101 class and now wants to move onto an Analytics 202 course. I often argue that deriving insights out of a series of simple reports could be a lot more difficult than building models or complex data management. Conversely, regardless of the sophistication level, marketers are not supposed to get into advanced analytics just for intellectual curiosity. Every data and analytics activity must be justified with business purposes, carefully following the strategic data roadmap, not difficulty level of the task.

The Order Card: It’s Your Cash Register

The order card is your close, your ring of the cash register. Your design should maximize revenue and/or response potential. Order cards need to be simple, clear and single-mindedly focused. And in print, especially, give people enough space to fill it out. We’ve all had that form that required us to write in a microscopic space.

My previous post discussed how many people often do not put enough time or creativity into their order cards and landing pages.  I hear too often “it’s just the order card.” It’s a shame. This is a critical component — think of it as your cash register, where the sale is closed. You can easily lose a sale if the order device is difficult to figure out, hard to complete, and unclear what to do next.

The order card is your close, your ring of the cash register. Your design should maximize revenue and/or response potential. Order cards need to be simple, clear and single-mindedly focused. And in print, especially, give people enough space to fill it out. We’ve all had that form that required us to write in a microscopic space.

13 Design Considerations to Optimize Your Order Cards
Some of this will sound familiar as they are similar to what I suggested you do on a landing page — but paper is not a screen and requires even more effort to get it right and make it easy.

1. Roadmap the page: The layout is even more critical in print. Create a clear path for your customers to follow. This could mean numbering your steps (probably the easiest way) to lead a person through the process. It should be obvious where to go and what you want them to do step by step.

2. Give them enough space to write: This is one of my pet peeves. One of the fastest ways to stop a sale: don’t give enough room to write. If you need to squeeze an order card, your first thought should be why. If it’s because of the format you are using, seriously consider changing it.

Are you asking for unneeded information? Remember, giving enough space will also help you to process the order as you’ll be able to more easily read what they write.

Planner Pad Order Card3. Clear headline/label: Have a headline that makes it clear it’s the order form. This could be as simple as calling it the “Order Form” or “Reservation Certificate.” It’s also a great area to test. Trying different headlines or labels could help lift your response rate.

4. Auto-complete/personalize forms: I’m always surprised that this is not a standard. If you have to give up personalization on a piece in your package, lose it on your letter. Use your order form as the addressing vehicle and personalize the order form. The less work recipients have to do, the sooner they’ll have their order in the mail.

5. Use check boxes: Make it easy to make selections. Check boxes or circles indicate prospects might need to make a choice and helps people through the form. I go out of my way to find a way to do this. On a complicated order form, this can be a great way to make it feel simple.

6. Use contrasting colors: Color can be a powerful tool to help roadmap your form and make it clear where they need to pay attention. It can also be used to help with choice selection, highlight upsells and emphasize bonus areas — all of which can dramatically improve responses and order size.

Applying Paid Search Optimization Techniques Beyond the Search Engine Results Page

In 2010, Forrester’s The Future of Search Marketing report predicted that “search marketing will become an umbrella term that applies to using any targeted media to help an advertiser get found.” Forrester was right. It’s now clear that search isn’t limited to being a channel.

In 2010, Forrester’s The Future of Search Marketing report predicted that “search marketing will become an umbrella term that applies to using any targeted media to help an advertiser get found.” Forrester was right. It’s now clear that search isn’t limited to being a channel.

Search is the science of understanding intent and acting on it to efficiently connect people to your brand — no matter if that connection is made on a search engine, social networking site, display network, affiliate network or other emerging medium. To foster these connections, search engine marketing best practices can be extended well beyond the search engine results page.

First, I’ll consider how traditional paid search techniques can be applied to display advertising to drive new-to-file customers. Like search, biddable display provides advertisers with targeting capabilities to find the right customer at the right price. While search marketers create segmentation via keywords to find the right audience, display marketers create segmentation via data sources.

For example, during back-to-school season this past year, one of Performics’ apparel retailer clients sought to efficiently boost year-over-year daily sales though performance display. Like we do with search campaigns, we restructured the retailer’s display campaign at a more granular level (31 different ads in 2011 versus 6 ads in 2010) to support product/offer testing.

The restructure revealed deeper audience insights, helping us buy only the impressions we wanted (i.e., the right placements at the right price). We also increased relevance through site retargeting (i.e., serving display ads to people who visited the advertiser’s website but didn’t take action). These strategies resulted in a 211 percent year-over-year increase in average daily sales at a 120 percent return on investment.

Likewise, paid search techniques can be applied to social media advertising. The obvious paid search/Facebook similarities are that Facebook cost-per-click ads are bid based, keyword triggered by likes/interests in users’ profiles and optimized through copy/creative testing. The obvious paid search/Twitter similarities are that Promoted Tweets are bid based, triggered by Twitter users’ search keywords and optimized through copy testing.

There are also less obvious similarities. For example, using paid search campaign structure best practices to boost Twitter followers via Promoted Accounts, which enable advertisers to recommend their account to particular Twitter users who may be interested in following them. For an advertiser’s account to be recommended, the advertiser targets Twitter users via keywords and bids on a cost-per-follower (CPF) basis. One of Performics’ clients sought to use Promoted Accounts to increase followers at a low CPF.

Borrowing from paid search, Performics restructured and relaunched the client’s Promoted Accounts campaign. We increased the account’s size from one campaign to 11 campaigns to include more granular, demographically relevant keywords. Like in paid search, more targeted keywords caused Twitter’s algorithm to recommend our client’s account to a more relevant Twitter audience. Post-optimization, the client achieved a 1,473 percent increase in followers at a 69 percent decrease in CPF.

Search will surely continue to evolve well beyond typing keywords in a search box (think asking Siri to find you an answer or using a mobile augmented reality app to see product reviews while walking through a store). Notwithstanding this evolution, time-tested paid search optimization techniques relentlessly focused on structuring campaigns to deliver the most relevant audiences at the lowest cost will always drive performance.

Behavioral Targeting Industry Needs Further Delineation

I received an interesting press release the other day from ValueClick Media that recapped a recent behavioral targeting panel that took the stage at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago.

The panel featured an industry analyst (David Hallerman, senior analyst, eMarketer), a behavioral targeting product expert (Joshua Koran, vice president, targeting and optimization, ValueClick, Inc.), a brand marketer (Julian Chu, Director of Acquisition Marketing, Discover) and an interactive agency executive (Sam Wehrs, Digital Activation Director, Starcom).
 

I received an interesting press release the other day from ValueClick Media that recapped a recent behavioral targeting panel that took the stage at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago.

The panel featured an industry analyst (David Hallerman, senior analyst, eMarketer), a behavioral targeting product expert (Joshua Koran, vice president, targeting and optimization, ValueClick, Inc.), a brand marketer (Julian Chu, Director of Acquisition Marketing, Discover) and an interactive agency executive (Sam Wehrs, Digital Activation Director, Starcom).

What I found most interesting about the release was that fact the group discussed and agreed on the need for delineation between the different approaches to behavioral targeting.

“While it is important to understand the difference between retargeting – which Hallerman referred to as “reactive” – and the more complex models, the panel agreed it is also critical to understand the differences within the more sophisticated group of behavioral targeting approaches, and Joshua Koran shared three designations: “clustering,” “custom business rules” and “predictive attributes,” the release said.

The “clustering” approach assigns each visitor to one and only one segment while the “custom business rules” approach offers marketers the ability to target visitors who have done X events in Y days, with Boolean operators of “and.” “or,” and “not.” Finally, the “predictive attributes” approach automates the assignment of interest categories based on the visitor activities that best correlate with performance; thus, the system is continuously learning to identify multiple interest attributes per visitor.

Another notable takeaway was the need for a focus on the customer experience and the corresponding importance of demonstrating value to customers when serving behaviorally targeted ads.

According to the release Julian Chu offered three questions marketers must address to make behavioral targeting a valuable experience for customers instead of merely serving the ads, which would unavoidably become customer annoyance: How are you going to do it? Where is it going to happen? What is going to happen at that time?

Presented as part of ValueClick Media’s ongoing Media Lounge education event series, this event – The Changing Behavioral Targeting Landscape – as well as the discussion itself underscored the importance of education relative to this increasingly important online advertising technique.

Food for thought!