Setting SEO Strategies and Priorities for 2015

As you turn the calendar to 2015, it is time once again to revisit the SEO successes or unmet challenges from the previous year and set priorities for what must get done during this year. Setting priorities for SEO is difficult. SEO is fast-moving, constantly changing and highly tactical marketing. There is always the temptation to chase the changes in search algorithms and ranking factors, for these changes require tactical solutions. It is easy to focus so intently on tactics to meet these immediate changes in the search that the overarching goals can get lost in the details, deep in the weeds. Good tactical execution done without real strategies and clearly set priorities is like driving fast with no directions or destination.

As you turn the calendar to 2015, it is time once again to revisit the SEO successes or unmet challenges from the previous year and set priorities for what must get done during this year. Setting priorities for SEO is difficult. SEO is fast-moving, constantly changing and highly tactical marketing. There is always the temptation to chase the changes in search algorithms and ranking factors, for these changes require tactical solutions. It is easy to focus so intently on tactics to meet these immediate changes in the search that the overarching goals can get lost in the details, deep in the weeds. Good tactical execution done without real strategies and clearly set priorities is like driving fast with no directions or destination.

Here are three things to consider as you go about setting your SEO strategies and priorities for 2015. How have your customers changed in their use of search? What are your business goals for 2015? Are you looking to grow, introduce new products or services, or regain lost business or traction in your industry? Does your site reflect your business? Does it offer anything of value to the customer or is it a static billboard or catalog? How and when will you be changing it? Finally, look at your SEO program and set the goals and priorities.

What About the Consumer?
There is a clear trend toward consumers using mobile devices for their search. Are you ahead or behind your customers? Review your analytics and consider what devices your customers are using. If you have not seen a clear uptake in mobile, don’t simply rationalize that your customers are different and haven’t moved to mobile yet. If your mobile traffic is not growing in relation to other Web devices, you may be losing ground already.

Another clear trend is that consumers are using social media to vet businesses and products. Social media today are clearly interlinked with search results. In setting 2015 priorities, you must look at how consumers are using social media relative to your business. Also, don’t forget to look at which social media sites are their favorites.

Are Your Business Goals Realistic?
If your business is growing, you will need to look at where online growth will come as you move to set your 2015 search directions. Do you expect huge growth from search? If so, you will need to look long and hard at how you will make this happen. Be reasonable in your expectations. In short, curb your optimism. Ground it in real numbers. It is not sensible to expect huge growth from search in a vacuum. Branding is ever more important element in search, so if your brand is weak, so too will be your ability to generate new traffic from search.

If you are introducing new products or adding a new line of business, you will need to make sure that you marketing program supports the product launch in all of the media that search influences. I am constantly surprised at businesses that simply add a page to their existing site and expect traffic. This may have once worked, but it does not work now.

Visit Your Site With Fresh Eyes
Come to your site as if you are a new customer. Do a search for your own products and follow the path. You may be surprised at what you discover. Does your site show up for the keyword searches that best describe your business? Did you turn up an outdated page as the key result of your search? On visiting the site from a search, did you easily find what you wanted? These answers may help set your direction.

Content is key for search success, and customers coming to your site will be looking for content that answers their search quest. Does your content fill the bill? One of my favorite exercises is to pull content from key pages and replace the name with “our company” and replace product and service offerings with “this product/service.” Then look and see if there is anything that can be learned about either the company or the product from the page. This is a quick way to find just how generic your content is. For small businesses, you can frequently trade in a different type of business. For example on the About Us page for an accounting firm swap in veterinarian for accountant and see if the page still makes sense. If it does, the page is virtually worthless for search since it offers nothing of real value.

Based on this high level review, you will be able to set your directions without getting lost in the tactics. You may discover that your first priority is to make the site more mobile friendly. You may also discover that without the addition of more and better content, being mobile friendly is not going to be as important as developing more content, and so it goes. Once the direction is set, you can relatively easily set the priorities and fit together the essential tactics.

Converting Your Social Media Triple-Fs: Friends, Followers and Fans

I’ve heard many gurus, marketers and publishers brag about their social media followers. They’ll say things like, “Isn’t it great … I’ve got 10,000 fans on Facebook” or “I have more than 15,000 followers on Twitter.” Then I’ll ask them how many free e-newsletter subscribers they have. And they’ll reply, “I haven’t had time to build a list yet. I don’t have an e-newsletter.”

I’ve heard many gurus, marketers and publishers brag about their social media followers. They’ll say things like, “Isn’t it great … I’ve got 10,000 fans on Facebook” or “I have more than 15,000 followers on Twitter.” Then I’ll ask them how many free e-newsletter subscribers they have. And they’ll reply, “I haven’t had time to build a list yet. I don’t have an e-newsletter.”

Well, in my opinion, they’ve won only half the battle …

It’s fantastic that they have a following on social media—people who seem to be interested in their messages (posts) and their overall philosophy. They can certainly cultivate these relationships to assist in their marketing efforts. However, I remind these gurus that the “fans” are following them. It’s a passive relationship. And there’s an awful lot of background noise in a news feed that can distract their fans.

If you don’t have fans’ email addresses, then you cannot have one-on-one communications with them. Building and cultivating a list is a fundamental business strategy for sales growth.

In the publishing world, a list (email addresses of free or paid subscribers) is sacred. It’s one of the most valuable things you own. You protect it and treat it with care, because your list is your financial bread and butter. It’s made up of people—customers and subscribers—who can make or break your business through their purchasing power or lack thereof.

Your list is also your leverage—what you use when reaching out to other synergistic publishers and friendly competitors to do reciprocal JV (joint venture) swaps and revenue share deals.

So, if you’re an online publisher, guru or business owner who has social media followers but no list, you’re at a disadvantage. Initiate a plan to capture your fans’ email addresses immediately and get permission to open up the personal lines of communication.

I recommend that you make a special conversion effort to encourage social media followers to give you their email addresses, or, as we say, “opt in” to receive your marketing messages.

This typically involves creating strong promotional copy and a lead-generation landing page (also know as squeeze page), where the goal is to capture the email address of the friend, follower or fan.

The offer should be something that will resonate with your fan, such as a useful and relevant free bonus. Some popular examples are a whitepaper, e-newsletter or e-alert subscription, audio download, bonus video, webinar or teleseminar..

Some marketers also offer coupon codes or gift certificates in exchange for an email address or the option to be in a “VIP club,” where you’re the first to hear about special offers.

Freebies will vary based on what you have to offer in exchange. Ideally, this is something that has a perceived value and is immediate and relevant. You run the campaign for a two-week period at a time, mixing your conversion messages with your regular, organic daily posts. It’s ideal to drive traffic to specially coded pages so you can track traffic and conversions. You can also make sure your sign up box on your website’s home page is up and ready for stray organic traffic. Then you monitor email sign-ups and website traffic (via Google Analytics), to ensure list growth and traffic source referrals.

Aside from captivating copy, many variables come into play to make sure the effort is successful. These include making sure email collection fields are at the top, middle and bottom of the lead-generation landing page being used, as well as in a static (fixed) location on your website. There should also be links to your privacy policy and an assurance statement alleviating any concern about email addresses being rented or sold to third parties.

It’s also critical to clearly disclose before users submit their email addresses that opting in to receive your freebie also gives them a complimentary subscription to your e-newsletter (if applicable), along with special offers from time to time.

Finally, you should follow up with a series of autoresponder (targeted messages) emails welcoming your new subscribers, reminding them how they signed up, offering strong editorial content and special new subscriber offers.

These emails facilitate bonding; validate that the correct email was sent; ensures that the user is aware of the sign up; helps reduce false “do not mail” reports, email bounces and general attrition; and most importantly, improved life time value.

So before you get enamored with your Facebook following, realize that to monetize these names takes a conversion strategy. Once you start building your list, you’ll add a whole new value to your businesses valuation.

5 Shades of Pop-Up Email Acquisition

As marketers, one of the biggest challenges we face is growing our marketing list at a rate higher than our attrition. On average, companies report an attrition rate of about 20 percent, which means in order to show a growth of just 10 percent per year, we need an actual growth of 30 percent. That’s a lot of growth and yet many of us simply have not developed a concrete plan to achieve this goal

As marketers, one of the biggest challenges we face is growing our marketing list at a rate higher than our attrition. On average, companies report an attrition rate of about 20 percent, which means in order to show a growth of just 10 percent per year, we need an actual growth of 30 percent. That’s a lot of growth and yet many of us simply have not developed a concrete plan to achieve this goal.

In the age of shiny, new objects, we have at our disposal tools, widgets, scripts, and doo-dads all designed to entice, encourage, beg, and withhold in order to garner the most valuable of data: our prospects’ email address. I’ve tried all of these approaches I’ll describe below, either on our site or on a client’s site, and there’s not one right answer. The big question is: Why do pop-ups work?

Most of us swear we hate subscriber pop-ups; they’re annoying; they make us want to leave the site immediately—but is this actually true? Studies show it’s simply not. The web abounds with case studies by companies of all sizes who verify their pop-ups are effective conversion tools and there’s a reason: pop-ups—though annoying—jolt your visitor with a persuasion technique called pattern interrupt. This identifies a situation where something unexpected happens after your brain has become lulled into a rhythm. You can interrupt a pattern with just about any unexpected or sudden display, movement, or response. When you interrupt the visitor, they usually experience momentary confusion, and sometimes even amnesia. This confusion state causes the visitor to become open to suggestion—they become willing to trade this uncomfortable state for clarity offered by another state. Your clear call to action displayed in a pop-up offers them a path to end their confusion.

With that said, and understanding how a pop-up works, you then need to choose the right pop-up approach. You’ll find some pop-ups are better aligned with your business than others, but that knowledge is usually gained through trial and error. If you’re using a CMS site such as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, you can test any/all of these approaches simply by installing plug-ins. With HTML, it become more difficult as you sort through different jQuery or JavaScript tools, but it’s not so difficult as to deter you. In the end, pop-ups are a great way to chip away at your pursuit of 30 percent growth.

On-enter Gated
Of all the annoying pop-ups, on-enter gated is the one I personally find the largest deterrent from continuing my engagement with a site. Figure 1 in the media player at right is an example is from JustFab.com, and their pop-up experience begins the moment you land. A pop-up first offers product options you must click through so they can build a profile of your style preferences. With that done, you complete the form shown in figure 1 before being allowed to continue your shopping experience. You cannot dismiss this pop-up without providing the required information. I suffered through this process only to be able to capture this screen shot, but I can tell you I have abandoned every other site that required me to log in to view their content. Similarly, I nearly always abandon a site that allowed me to read part of an article and then withheld the ending until I proffered my email address.

On Enter
For me, pop-ups on enter like the one shown in figure 2, are far less annoying than on-enter gated. These pop-ups might display as soon as you land, after a period of time, or after you begin scrolling. These have a dismiss icon, so you can close the box without providing the information. If you choose this route, you’ll want to do some testing around the ideal time to let pass before displaying. I’ve found giving the reader 15 to 30 seconds to get a taste for the content produces better results. If you ask for their email address before they have determined the value of your site, you may scare them off.

Header (or Footer) Notification
Header or footer notifications are far less intrusive, and thus could prove to be less effective. It’s easy to miss a message displayed at the very top of the page since the visitor’s eye is more typically drawn to the area that usually displays the menu bar. If you choose a header or footer notification like the one shown in figure 3 from infyways.com, try using a heat map to ensure your visitors are even looking at the notice before you decide the effectiveness of this approach.

On Exit
The on-exit pop-up (figure 4), displays automatically as someone makes a move to leave a site. I like these pop-ups because it’s the what-have-I-got-to-lose? approach. Displaying a message after your visitor has already decided to leave your site is a great way to cause them pause and reconsider what they’ve just read. Was it really of no value? Did it have value only today? Did it have long-term value? If so, would they like to be notified of new, similar content?

Scroll-Triggered Pop-up
This pop-up (figure 5) is triggered to display along the bottom edge (configurable) of the visitor’s browser window as they scroll down the page. It will display on any/all pages of the site, so it’s effective even if they’ve clicked a link directly through to a landing page.

A/B Testing and Analytics
There are probably as many approaches as there are businesses and websites, but this list is a good overview. Don’t stop at just installing the form or plug-in, without analytics and careful monitoring, you’re not getting smarter about what works and what doesn’t. If you’ve installed a subscriber pop-up plug-in and you’re not getting sign-ups, first make sure the product is working properly and then check your analytics. Are you actually getting traffic to the page where you’ve included your capturing system? Using a heatmap, are people viewing it? Lastly, these products are not mutually exclusive. Try lots of approaches all at once—that in itself can be the A/B test: which product is most effective on which pages?

Automation
Most of these products will capture your prospects into a database of some sort, but automating the passing of leads into your email system will make the entire process more valuable to you. By passing the data automatically, you can also create instantaneous auto-responders welcoming your new subscriber. While you’re shopping for a product, ensure you check to see if it supports your chosen email-automation platform, and if not, look to see how you can automate this process. We use Zapier and have found we can directly support the client’s application about 90 percent of the time.

For most of us, we have a methodical approach to building a marketing campaign and I think this same approach can be used as a plan for growing your list:

  1. Define a measurable goal
  2. Choose tools you will use for measuring success/failure of the effort
  3. Outline with metrics are important to showing success/failure
  4. Define A/B testing points
  5. Analyze results

If you’ve had success with a particular product, please share your experience in the comments below. I’m always eager to learn about new products that can make me a better marketer—as I’m sure this blog’s readers are as well.

6 Keys to Search Success in 2014

What if someone gave you scientific data on what hundreds of sites are doing to get thousands of top keyword rankings on Google? Would you, or could you, make changes to your site to match the criteria for achieving these rankings? The data is now available. Searchmetrics has just released a new study, part of a multiyear longitudinal study on ranking factors, entitled “SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations 2014—Google U.S.” In this lengthy whitepaper, there are some big takeaways and lots of guidance, which savvy search marketers will turn into action plans—or roadmaps for success, as I prefer to think of them. Here are some of the nuggets gleaned from the research:

What if someone gave you scientific data on what hundreds of sites are doing to get thousands of top keyword rankings on Google? Would you, or could you, make changes to your site to match the criteria for achieving these rankings? The data is now available. Searchmetrics has just released a new study, part of a multiyear longitudinal study on ranking factors, entitled “SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations 2014—Google U.S.” In this lengthy whitepaper, there are some big takeaways and lots of guidance, which savvy search marketers will turn into action plans—or roadmaps for success, as I prefer to think of them. Here are some of the nuggets gleaned from the research:

  • SEO Success Requires Vigilance—the study reinforces that good SEO is, in fact, the culmination of hundreds of tactical efforts, all executed precisely and flawlessly. SEO is changing and evolving so that tactics that garnered top rankings just a few years ago may not be as significant today; therefore, it is important to continuously tune your program based on precise new information.
  • Basic SEO Is Not Enough—These are the stakes needed to even play at the table: robust site architecture with good internal links, short loading times and the presence of all relevant Meta tags, such as Title and Description. You cannot expect your basic optimization efforts to do all the work. They are just the foundation for search success.
  • Bring on the Content—Content must be richer and longer. Most top-ranking pages include about 900 words, 17 sentences or so of real content. This content must engage the user, contain the keywords you are targeting and be highly readable by your audience. With Google moving to a holistic approach to page relevancy, so, too, must content creators. They need to include not just the keyword target, but other semantically relevant keywords. The days are long gone where keyword stuffing and pages of weak content with the same keyword repeated over and over were successful.
  • Quality Links, Not Just Quantity—Success in Google has always required attention to the site’s linkage profile. Today, link-building should really be transformed into link-curation. The Searchmetrics report clearly emphasizes the importance of focusing on high-quality links and paying closer attention to internal linking structures. Most SEO efforts focus on external link-building and forget about removing broken, irrelevant and unnecessary links. These should be part of the basic “housekeeping” activities for the site.
  • Social Media Just Give Signals—Social media provide valuable signals for Google as to the worth of your content. The Searchmetrics study has shown that these signals are less valuable to Google in 2014 compared to 2013. The jury is still out as to exactly how they contribute, but more shares and likes impact rankings positively. Make no mistake—social media likes, pins and mentions are not magic bullets for improving rankings. Social media provide Google signals as to how valuable users find the content on your site. Your efforts should be focused on the user.
  • It Is All About the User—If you want to rank well, users must find your content interesting. The study found that URLs with top rankings had clickthrough rates (CTRs) of 32 percent and the 10th highest ranking URL had a 3 percent CTR. Users clicking through typically stay on the top-ranking pages 101 seconds and exhibit only a 37 percent bounce rate. Users stay longer on top-ranked pages—30 seconds longer than on a page in the 4th position. If your data shows that your pages have low clickthrough rates, short stays and high bounce rates, you cannot really expect top rankings. To put it bluntly, your pages are not worthy. The challenge is to use the information in the Searchmetrics study to improve your site’s performance. This means taking a long, hard look at what you are doing right and have a willingness to address issues that might be impairing your performance in search. Just remember, SEO success is hundreds of rapidly changing tactics, flawlessly executed.

Empower Your Direct Mail With Mobile

Direct mail marketing has been around for a long time; it’s sometimes thought of as the “old goat” of marketing. Over the years there have been many changes in the way we use direct mail for marketing. Slapping a resident label on a card and mailing to everyone in your city does not cut it anymore

Direct mail marketing has been around for a long time; it’s sometimes thought of as the “old goat” of marketing. Over the years there have been many changes in the way we use direct mail for marketing. Slapping a resident label on a card and mailing to everyone in your city does not cut it anymore.

Some of the best practices that have been in use for a while now are listed below. By using some or all of these, you can help keep your direct mail more cost effective and easily increase your ROI.

  • Targeted mail lists: There are so many ways you can really define your best prospects.
  • Mail tracking: Know when your mail delivered so that you can follow up.
  • Creative designs: Stand out in the mail box.
  • A/B testing: Really track results on what messaging and formats get the best response.

Since many people now spend more time on their mobile devices, you can use your direct mail to catch people on the go. In this day and age, we can empower our direct mail with technology to drive an even greater response.

When your direct mail has the latest technology, you let the recipient into the driver’s seat of your marketing. You allow them to pick and choose the information they are interested in at that moment. You can incorporate mobile marketing into your direct mail by using some or all of the following, as easy gateways to online information via recipient’s cell phones.

  • QR Codes: Directs them to a landing page with an offer, a way to buy or more information.
  • Augmented Reality: Use your imagination to create a powerful experience.
  • NFC: Near Field Communication can be used to drive mobile devices where ever you want to with a tap or touch between the phone and an embedded chip.
  • PURL: Unique and personalized landing page created especially for each recipient.

By adding these instant response methods, you increase the opportunity to catch someone in the moment as a hot lead, if not a sale. After all direct mail influences 76 percent of internet users to buy a product or service online (Exact Target), so you need to make sure that you are driving that online engagement. Creating the mobile optimized landing pages for recipients to gather more information, make a purchase or share ideas with others is a must with each direct mail campaign you do.

Thirty-four percent of consumers search online for more information about a product or service when receiving direct mail from a brand they are interested in (Direct Marketing Association). Don’t you want to be the one controlling the information they see, rather than Google? When you create the landing pages and supply all the information, your competitors are not there to distract from your message, you are in control. Some helpful tips to keep in mind when creating the landing pages are below.

  • Use the same design theme as the direct mail piece for a consistent look.
  • Ask for minimal information in order for them to download or signup for something, basically name and email address.
  • Allow them to make a purchase from the mobile landing page.
  • Make the call to action simple.
  • All the messaging on the landing pages need to follow the lead of the direct mail piece. If you switch gears on the landing page, it will be confusing to the customer/prospect.

By empowering your direct mail with choices and ways to gather information, you are empowering your customer/prospect to make a quick and easy decision on your call to action. This means your direct mail will need to have a clear call to action with more than one way to respond. It is vital that you incorporate mobile response devises now, because mobile users are growing rapidly and along with them mobile purchases. Your direct marketing company can help you to create the landing pages and the QR Codes, Augmented Reality, PURL’s or NFC. Incorporating the mobile response devices does not have to be labor intensive for you.

PPC Shockers and Secrets

Pay per click (PPC), particularly Google AdWords, is a marketing channel that can produce profitable results for your business, whether your goal is lead generation or sales. I have been managing PPC for businesses, as an in-house marketing leader as well as marketing consultant, for over a decade now. Though the years, I have noticed many secrets to success that I wanted to share—especially with business owners and marketers that haven’t tried PPC yet.

Pay per click (PPC), particularly Google AdWords, is a marketing channel that can produce profitable results for your business, whether your goal is lead generation or sales.

I have been managing PPC for businesses, as an in-house marketing leader as well as marketing consultant, for over a decade now.

Though the years, I have noticed many secrets to success that I wanted to share—especially with business owners and marketers that haven’t tried PPC yet.

First, I’d like to clear the air about a big shocker … or actually a fallacy … that you need a big budget to run an effective PPC campaign.

You don’t. If you happen to have a large budget, your ads will be shown more and you can spread out your ad groups and test different types. With a smaller budget, you do need to be more judicious with your efforts. But if you market smarter, not broader, your campaigns can still produce positive results.

I have run PPC campaigns with total monthly budgets of $1,000. I have run campaigns with total daily maximum budgets ranging from $25 to $50. These campaigns brought in both sales and leads, despite their limited spending. But they do require active management, strategic thinking, deep PPC knowledge and refinement/optimization.

The PPC Tri-Pod
What is going to determine the cost and return of your campaign are three simple things I call the “PPC Tri-pod”, as it supports your entire PPC efforts:

  1. Keywords
  2. Creative (or banner ad, if it’s running on the display network)
  3. Redirect URL

So in order for you to get the most bang for your buck with PPC, you should be aware of a few things regarding the PPC Tri-pod:

Keywords. The more popular the keyword, the more cost per click (CPC) it’s going to have. So it’s very important to do your keyword research before you start selecting your keywords as you’re setting up your campaign.

I like to use Keywordspy.com. The “lite” version is free, but you can also upgrade to the full version and see more results and have more capabilities for a monthly fee. Google used to have its Keyword External Tool, which has since morphed into Google AdWords Keyword Planner. You need a Gmail account to access this free tool.

Either of these tools will allow you to enter keywords or keyword phrases and then view popularity (actual search results), as well as what the average CPCs are. This is important for your keyword selection and bidding. You can also type in your “core” or focus keywords and get additional ad group/keyword ideas. To help refine your search terms, you can also choose broad match, broad match modifier, phrase match, exact match and negative match.

If you pick a word that is too vague or too under-searched, your ad will not see much (or any) action. Impressions will either not be served, or if they are served (in the case of a vague word), it may cost you a high CPC. In addition, a vague keyword may not be relevant enough to get you a good conversion rate. Because you pay by the click, your goal is to monetize that click by getting an instant conversion. And conversions, my friends, will be the role of the landing page. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.

Creative. This is your text ad (or banner ad, if you’re running in AdWords’ display network). For Google to rank your ad favorably, and more importantly, for you to get the best conversion results possible—there needs to be a relevancy and synergy between your keyword, text ad and landing page. Google will let you know if you’re not passing muster by your ad’s page position and quality score. Once you’ve carefully researched and selected your ad group keywords, you’ll want to make sure those keywords are consistent across the board with your ad and landing page. Your text ad has four visible lines with limited character count:

  1. Headline (25 Characters)
  2. Description Line 1 (35 Characters)
  3. Description Line 2 (35 Characters)
  4. Display URL (35 Characters)

Your keyword must appear in your text ad, as well as follow through and appear in the content of your landing page.

This will give you a good quality rank with Google, but also help qualify the prospect and carry the relevancy of the ad through to the landing page. Why is this important? It helps maintain consistency of the message and also set expectations with the end user. You don’t want to present one ad, and then have a completely different landing page come up.

Not only is that a “bait and switch,” but it’s costly. Because you’re paying for clicks, a great ad that is compelling and keyword rich, but not cohesive to your landing page, will not convert as well as one that is. And your campaign will actually lose conversions.

Redirect URL. This is your landing page. Different goals and different industries will have different formats. A lead generation campaign, which is just looking to collect email addresses to build an opt-in email list, will be a “squeeze page.” This is simply a landing page with a form asking for first name and email address in return for giving something away for free—albeit a bonus report, free newsletter subscription or similar. It got its name because it’s “squeezing” an email address from the prospect. Some retail campaigns will direct prospects directly to e-commerce sites or catalog pages (as opposed to a sales page). Direct response online marketers will drive their traffic to a targeted promotional landing page where it’s not typically a Web page where there’s other navigation or distractions that will take the prospect away from the main goal. It’s more streamlined and focused. The copy is not technical, it’s compelling and emotional, like promotional copy you would see in a sales letter. The anatomy of your redirect URL will vary on your goal and offer. It will take optimization and testing to see what’s working and what’s not. And that’s par for the course. If you’re testing, I suggest elements that scream and not whisper, such as long copy vs. short copy, or headlines and leads that are different themes. However, no matter what your goal, whether it’s going for the sale or the email address, you still need keyword consistency between all creative elements.

Tips And Tricks For Maximum ROI
Whether you have a big or small budget, there are a few things I’ve learned during the years that help the overall performance of a PPC campaign. Some of these are anecdotal, so if you’ve seen otherwise, I suggest testing to see if it makes a difference to your particular industry.

Ad and Landing Page. In general, I have noticed that shorter, to the point, landing pages produce better results. And the rationale is quite obvious. People searching the Web are looking for quick solutions to a problem. This means your creatives have to not only be keyword rich, but compelling and eye-caching. You have seconds to grab a Web surfer’s attention and get them to click. In the same sense, the landing page has to be equally relevant and persuasive, and typically shorter in copy. Keep in mind Google has many rules surrounding ad copy development. So write your text ads in accordance to its advertising policy.

Price Point. Again, in my personal experience, most Web surfers have a price threshold. And that’s items under about $79. When running a PPC campaign, think about price points that are more tolerable to “cold” prospects; that is, people who haven’t built a relationship with you or know anything about you. They have no brand loyalty. They don’t know you from Adam. So getting a sale at a lower price point is an easier sell than a product you have that costs hundreds of dollars. Luxury items or items with strong recognition and brand loyalty are the exception to that rule. As a direct response marketer, I urge you to price test and see for yourself.

Campaign Set-up. There are a few tactics I notice that help with ad exposure, clicks and saving money. When you’re setting up your campaign you can day-part, frequency cap and run ad extensions. Day parting allows you to select the hours of the day you’d like your campaign to run; ad extensions allow you to add components to your text ad to help visibility and call to action—such as location, site links, reviews and more; And frequency capping lets you set a threshold on how many times you’d like a given person to see your ad (based on impressions).

PPC Networks. It’s smart not to put all your eggs in one basket. In addition to Google AdWords, try running campaigns on other PPC networks, such as Bing/Yahoo, Adroll (retargeting through Facebook), Advertising.com/AdSonar.com, SiteScout.com (formerly Adbrite.com), and Kanoodle.com. Then see where you get the best cost per click, cost per conversion and overall results.

I’ve only touched the surface here. There are more tactics and features that can help a PPC campaign’s performance. So get yourself familiar with it, read up on the best practices, and don’t be afraid to put your toe in the water. As with any marketing tactic, some channels will work for your business, and some won’t. But you won’t know unless you test. Just remember the foundation of success hinges on the PPC Tri-Pod. The possibilities are endless.

Responsive Design: This Changes Everything

Like many businesses, we put off making updates to our Web page because we were … um … well … simply too busy. And shame on us. As marketers, we know the critical role a website plays for any business. If a potential client, employee or business colleague wants to really understand who you are and what you do, they take two actions

Like many businesses, we put off making updates to our Web page because we were … um … well … simply too busy. And shame on us.

As marketers, we know the critical role a website plays for any business.

If a potential client, employee or business colleague wants to really understand who you are and what you do, they take two actions:

  1. Check out your LinkedIn profile: Does your photo look like somebody they want to engage with? Does your experience/education/brand voice look like a good match for my needs? Do you know anybody I know so I can get the inside skinny on you?
  2. Visit your website: How do you present yourself in the digital world? Do you have the experience/skills I’m looking for?

With an increasing number of site visitors using their mobile devices to visit websites, the new design “must-do” trend is responsive design. While in the past it was necessary to have a separate mobile-friendly version of a site, it’s now easy to maintain one site that can serve all your needs regardless of the screen size.

A site that uses responsive is flexible: It changes its layout and appearance based on the pixel width of the screen on which the site is displayed by reorganizing the images into a cascading style sheet. By using x and y coordinates on a grid for layout, and mathematical percentages for images instead of fixed-width pixel parameters, your layout will resize itself to fit in the size of the display device. That means that text on a page can be larger and easier to read on small screen, and buttons can be easier to press/click because they can accommodate the actual size of a finger.

If your site currently uses Flash, it’s probably a good time to rethink that strategy, as many smart phones don’t currently support it—which means many visitors won’t be able to view that content.

Plus, since Google recommends and supports smart phone-optimized sites, their algorithms will automatically detect a responsive design setup if those all-important Google bots are allowed to crawl your page assets. And we all know how critical it is that your site is Google-search friendly!

But, it seems, many brands have not jumped on the new responsive design bandwagon—and understandably so. We’re living proof that planning, designing and re-launching a new website is a time-consuming task. And while many web design firms claim they can adapt your current site for less than you may think, we found that we needed to completely rethink our site and the way we were presenting our work in order to take advantage of responsive design techniques.

Now email is following this same responsive design trend. If you’re like most people, you’ve already discovered that reading email on your smart phone can be challenging. Just because it looks great on your work monitor, doesn’t mean it will render properly on every recipients device. According to Litmus, as of December 2013, more than 51 percent of email opens occur on a mobile device. Meaning you’d better be taking a serious look at your email design if you want to make sure it’s optimized for the majority of your readers.

As for our website, it’s now under construction … and yes, we’re using responsive design … and yes, we’re learning a lot as we go. Check back in about 60-days and let me know what you think.

When to Squeeze

A marketing email should not ever be an isolated interaction between you and the recipient—it should be a player in a concert designed to delight, woo and convert. Other players in this concert include forms, links, content, assets, and, importantly, landing pages or squeeze pages. For your recipients, these pages should

A marketing email should not ever be an isolated interaction between you and the recipient—it should be a player in a concert designed to delight, woo and convert. Other players in this concert include forms, links, content, assets, and, importantly, landing pages or squeeze pages. For your recipients, these pages should:

  • Provide a clear, concise path to becoming a customer.
  • Enable them to become customers.
  • Resolve any concerns they may have about becoming customers.

Let’s cover the basics:

A “landing page” is a web page, either on your site or hosted within your ESP or other site, that details the offer of your call to action (CTA). A landing page provides the visitor with several or numerous information sources or paths to engagement. For instance, you might link to white papers and videos that support your message (see Figure 1 int he media player at right), provide social media icons for connecting, or even reviewing options for feedback. In short, there is no limit to the amount of information you may include on a landing page—but more is not always better.

When more is not better, a squeeze page provides an ideal solution. A “squeeze page” is a Web page with a singular focus on the conversion (see Figure 2). Similarly designed to a landing page, it is without the myriad options one might find on a targeted landing page. On this page you’ll have no social icons, no links to your website, and only one option for engagement. As a mnemonic, think of a squeeze page as putting the squeeze on the visitor to do just one thing: complete the call to action referenced in your email.

Landing and squeeze pages provide you with ample opportunities for A/B and multivariate testing. Creating multiple versions of your pages, you can test messaging, buttons, images, color, formats (responsive or static) and much more. What’s more, combined with analytics monitoring, you can discern who’s visiting, for how long, what they did, where they go and so much more.

We have many clients who at the outset were performing some marketing (either direct mail or email), but in most cases were sending recipients to their home page—and without benefit of a tracking URL. There are two primary reasons you should never, never send your marketing traffic to your home page, 1) your home page should provide information appropriate for your general audience and, as such, does not specifically engage the marketing-message recipient; and 2) it is difficult or impossible to discern—even through analytics—which visitors came to your home page through other promotions, and which specifically visited your home page after having received your marketing campaign. These analytics are critical to understanding the behavior of your recipients, so don’t miss this opportunity to collect it, analyze it and act on it.

As you design your landing or squeeze page, use your email or direct mail piece as the guideline. Be sure you are directing clickthroughs to a page using the same art, same messaging and consistent branding. This similarity of design is comforting to the visitor and ensures they’ve come to the right place. Given they found the design of the email compelling enough to click, why spoil the moment? You already found what works, give them more.

If, however, you find that you’re simply not getting the conversions you expected, check the number of visitors first. You must have visits to gain conversions. If not, back up and take a closer look at the initial engagement and consider first things first. No matter how wonderfully written, artfully designed, and programmatically perfect a landing or squeeze page is, if your message does not drive your recipient to visit the page, your conversion rate will suffer. Ensure your message drives the visit before you give angst an audience over conversion disappointments.

If number of visits is within your acceptable range (but when is it ever enough?), work on the other players within your campaign, such as:

  • Form length
  • Form questions
  • Button design and placement
  • Text content
  • Links
  • Downloads
  • Supporting resources
  • Design
  • Programming errors

All of these elements can and should be tested and tracked through A/B and multivariate testing combined with analytics and heat-mapping. Using landing and squeeze pages makes this testing process easier and more reliable than trying to root through or make drastic changes to your site’s home page.

Taking this discussion just one step further, if a landing page simply doesn’t provide you adequate real estate, consider a “microsite,” a series of linked landing pages that spotlights your offer.

Sometimes integrated email means the integrated components within your campaign and rather than the components of the initiative. As you develop your emails, think beyond the inbox and give consideration to the end-to-end experience and what you can provide to your visitor in order to attain that elusive conversion.

Slapping Lipstick on It Doesn’t Mean It’s Content

Adding a forward-facing camera to a smartphone was truly one of those “tipping point” moments. So it was no surprise when the word “selfie” was proclaimed the “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.” In return, I’d like to nominate the word “content” as the “Marketing Word of the Year.” But unlike the word “selfie,” which can be somewhat self-explanatory, the word “content” seems to be completely misunderstood.

Adding a forward-facing camera to a smartphone was truly one of those “tipping point” moments. Not only does it allow us to take a spur of the moment picture, but it feeds into society’s obsession with “look-at-me-now!” social media. So it was no surprise when the word “selfie” was proclaimed the “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.”

In return, I’d like to nominate the word “content” as the “Marketing Word of the Year.” But unlike the word “selfie,” which can be somewhat self-explanatory, the word “content” seems to be completely misunderstood.

In the strictest sense of the word, content is the subject or topic covered in a book, document, website, blog, video or webinar. And Content Marketing is the new black.

Just a few years ago, you could generate attention with a few media placements and a well-crafted message. But now consumers, especially in the B-to-B space, want more—more insight into how your product/service will make a difference in their business, more case studies that demonstrate how others have leveraged your product/service to increase ROI, more proof of concept.

The trouble is, many B-to-B marketers (and B-to-C for that matter) haven’t figured out what makes good content. And since the content-to-noise ratio is increasing daily, it’s important that marketers get a clear view of what defines great and valuable content, and why.

Since I’ve not been impressed with many attempts at content marketing, I want to share a few “what NOT to do” examples:

  • Content is different from advertisement. Recently, Boston Private Bank Trust Company was running a leaderboard banner ad with a stock image of a family, in front of an American flag, and a huge headline: “Watch our new video >”. Shaking my head at the banality of the message, I went ahead and clicked just to see if maybe the problem was with the packaging of the content. It took me to the home page of their website, where the video dominated my screen. I started to watch and discovered it was merely a 90 second advertisement. Although it was beautifully shot and artfully directed, it only took 12 seconds for the announcer to start talking about the benefits of banking with Boston. Scanning the rest of the home page (very difficult since the top 2/3 were covered with the video and “Look how great we are!” messaging), I didn’t see one case study, whitepaper/POV document on managing wealth that might help me feel, “Hey, I like what these guys are saying; I’d like to talk to someone at Boston about my needs.”
  • Heavily gated content just irritates me. I understand the strategy: Create content, offer it up to your targets, require they “register” before they can get access so you can fill your lead funnel. But, often, landing pages that require so much information are a deterrent to completion. Sometimes, I’ll provide “Mickey Mouse” types of answers, just so I can complete the process and get to the paper. Do you really need me to answer six questions beyond name and email address so you can pre-qualify me and make sure your sales guy isn’t wasting his time following up? Good content marketing strategies look at a longer term contact strategy, not a one-and-done process. If I download the article, then try dripping on me with more emails with more content. If I keep downloading, chances are I might be a solid lead, so reach out to me via email and, if qualifying me by company size or # of employees is critical, then do a little homework. A few clicks of the mouse will probably find that information for you.
  • Understand the difference between whitepapers and case studies. A whitepaper is called a whitepaper for a reason—it’s supposed to be an independent point of view around a topic. Too many whitepapers are either platforms for self-aggrandizement or poorly disguised sales pitches. Well-written whitepapers are informative, insightful and topical. It takes professional writing skill to add nuances that paint your product/service in a positive light—and not as a thump to the head with a frying pan. Case Studies, on the other hand, are an opportunity to let one of your customers formally endorse your brand. They should include the situation/problem and how it was solved, and, if possible, a quote attributed to a name/title at the buyers organization.

Designing your content so it is attractive, easy to read, and a combination of text, graphs and images, is a given. But don’t, for a minute, think you can take your advertising (video or otherwise), market it as content and check the box for content marketing off on your list.