What’s the Price on ‘My Data’? Let the Marketplace Set the Rate

A bipartisan bill in Congress would assign the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with the task of determining what consumer data is worth; at least when it comes to Big Digital giants. So what’s my data worth?

A bipartisan bill in Congress would assign the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with the task of determining what consumer data is worth; at least when it comes to Big Digital giants. So what’s my data worth?

On the face of it, having the government mirror the private sector, and recognize that consumer data is a valuable asset, is actually quite wise. Data is worth something — and accounting rules, risk management, capitalism, and a reverence for asset protection — all point to a need to understand data’s worth and secure it accordingly. But should the government come up with the arithmetic? Really? And why limit this to Big Digital … data drives all economy sectors!

If this is about commerce and productivity, and facilitating next-generation accounting and capitalism, then I’d be all gung-ho. If it’s about setting the stage for just being punitive, then perhaps we can and must do better.

Take privacy. I’m already getting click fatigue — with permission notices on every site I want to visit, as well as the apps I use, it’s no wonder people are questioning if laws like GDPR and CCPA really afford any meaningful privacy protection at all, as well-intended as they may be. Privacy is personally defined — though universal principles need apply. Again, I think we can and must do better.

Recognizing data’s value — as the fuel for today’s economy — means recognizing data’s limitless beneficial uses (and encouraging such uses and further innovation), while putting a no-go ring around unreasonable uses (like throwing elections).

Business Efforts to Calculate Data’s Worth

“My data” is a misnomer. On the data valuation front, we from the direct marketing world — purveyors of personally identifiable information (PII) — have been putting a price on data for years … and understand data’s value, intrinsically. Big reveal: It’s not about me. (Sorry, Taylor Swift.)

Worldata, for example, has been tracking list prices for decades, and dutifully reporting on this. In the world of direct response, there’s “sweat equity” in both response and compiled lists. For response lists, some enterprise built a list of customers (or donors). The value of that list is derived from the shared attribute those customers have – and not, as some privacy advocates would have it, with the sum of one individual after another appearing on that list. With compiled lists, observable data is harnessed and staged also for marketing use – providing a more complete view of prospects and customers. Again, the value is derived from the attributes that data subjects share.

Even in digital data driving today’s media placement for advertising (more accurately, audience placement) — the algorithms deployed in search, social, and display — the values of these formulae are derived from affinities in these proprietary calculations, much of it anonymized from a traditional PII perspective. Yes, there are lots of data — nearly $21.2 billion in U.S. trade alone — but it’s not hoarding; it’s being put to productive use — in effect, 1:1 at mass scale.

With any innovations, there are bound to be mistakes by good companies, and some bad players, too. But it’s amazing to see how the marketplace weeds these out, over time. The marketplace, in time, weeds out the wheat from the chaff. The industry comes up with brand safety, privacy, security, chain-of-trust, and other initiatives to help facilitate more transparency and control. And testing shows which data sources are timely and reliable — and which ones where data quality is in question.

Predict This: Data Unleashed for Responsible Use Unleashes Consumer Benefits

Recently, I heard a current federal official say that data may be fuel — but it’s not like oil. Oil is finite. Data, on the other hand, is a limitless resource — like fusion. And it can be replicated. In fact, he went on to say, the more it is shared for responsible data use, the more consumers, citizens, commerce, and the economy benefit. This is correct. The commercialization of the Internet, indeed, gave us today’s global Digital Economy — giving billions access to information where they are able to derive limitless benefits.

That’s why potential breaches of data do need to be risk-assessed, prevented, understood for a likelihood of harm — with data governance and employee training thoroughly implemented. That’s also why government should investigate significant breaches to detect lax practices, and to instruct enterprises how to better protect themselves from bad actors. Here, I can see a viable SEC role, where all publicly held companies, and privately held too, are called into question – not just one type of company.

Where privacy is concerned … don’t just divide Big Digital revenue by the number of users with social accounts — and start menacing on what data about me online may be worth. That immediately starts off with a false assumption, fails to recognize information’s exponential value in the economy, and denies the incredible social benefits afforded by the digitization of information.

The Digital Advertising Alliance (a client) conducted a study in 2016, and found that consumers assign a value of nearly $1,200 a year to the “free” ad-financed content they access and rely upon via digital and mobile. However, if they were forced to pay that amount – most would not be willing (or able) to pay such a premium.

This research shows why we need to protect and facilitate ad-financed content. But it’s part of a larger discussion. It’s about why the commercialization of the Internet has been a 25-year success (happy birthday, October 24) and we must keep that moving forward. As consumers, we all have prospered! Let’s start our discussion on data valuation here.

 

How to Double Your Landing Page Conversion Rates With 6 Easy Tune-ups

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your Google AdWords campaign is failing to optimize your landing page. No matter how carefully you fine tune your ad copy, tweak your keyword match settings and reallocate your budget, if your landing page conversion rates are low, you are literally giving away sales

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your Google AdWords campaign is failing to optimize your landing page. No matter how carefully you fine tune your ad copy, tweak your keyword match settings and reallocate your budget, if your landing page conversion rates are low, you are literally giving away sales. Today, I will walk you through the steps to improve (even double) your current conversion rates.

What Is a Landing Page?
A landing page is the specific page on your website where prospects land after clicking on one of your ads. Note that you should never use your homepage as a landing page, because the homepage gives a general introduction to your company, while a landing page needs to be tightly geared to the ad copy. In fact, it is best to create a separate landing page for each ad. This allows you to clearly reiterate the main idea in the ad, improving the overall congruence, or harmony, of the prospect’s experience.

What Is Your Conversion Rate?
The most important conversion rate is the ratio of sales to visitors. However, that’s not always quick and easy to calculate, so advertisers measure other key sales actions, such as filling out a contact form or making a phone call. For example, let’s say that 1,000 people click through your AdWords ad to your landing page, but only 20 of them fill out the contact form on that page. Divide 20 by 1,000 to find that your “contact form conversion rate” is 2 percent. Your numbers might be very different, but remember that the conversion rate refers to the percentage of people who take further action toward making a purchase after landing on your page.

Why Should You Improve Your Landing Page Conversion Rates?
Simply put, improving your conversion rates means that you will get more leads or customers for fewer advertising dollars. Taking the example above, suppose that the action you want prospects to take is purchasing a product that you sell for $100. If 20 of 1,000 people who click on your ad buy the product, you make $2,000. If 40 of those same 1,000 people buy the product (4% conversion rate), then you make $4,000. That’s $2,000 extra revenue from the exact same investment in advertising!

What Are the Basic Keys to Improve Landing Page Conversion Rates?
Improving your landing page conversion rates is both a science and an art. Monitor your AdWords campaign closely at first to determine the results of the changes you implement, and be ready to tweak your landing page as needed depending on what you discover. These are the parts of the landing page that often need fine-tuning:

  1. Congruence: This is the overall harmony of the user experience. Your landing page should tightly reflect the message, tone, and feel of the ad that was clicked on. Your prospects clicked on the ad because something in it resonated with them, so follow up on that with the landing page. If you change nothing else, ensuring congruence can dramatically improve your conversion rates.
  2. Headline: The headline is the most important part of your landing page. People scan quickly and make snap decisions when reading online, so your headline needs to captivate them. Don’t try to close the sale in the headline, but do restate the offer or the most important point from your ad.
  3. Offer and Call to Action: Most people know that a strong offer is an important element in making a sale, but is your offer irresistible? Try offering something different from what everyone else in your line of business offers, or add an extra bonus. Make sure to give clear instructions on what to do next to make the purchase, and if possible, add a deadline to increase urgency.
  4. Copy: Make sure your landing page explains exactly how you can solve the customer’s current problem or fulfill a specific need. In other words, focus on benefits rather than features. Plus, add elements that make your business sound legitimate, such as testimonials, reviews, or industry affiliations.
  5. Reduce Risk: Prospects tend to be skeptical when shopping online, largely thanks to the frequent horror stories in the media. If your offer requires payment, reduce the perceived risk by providing a guarantee, adding third-party trust verification, and providing full contact details for your company.
  6. Layout and Aesthetics: Because people scan rather than reading in depth online, clearing out the clutter can improve your conversion rates. Make it easy for prospects to figure out what to do. Make the buttons they need to click bigger. Remove extraneous navigation menus. Avoid long blocks of text. Keep it simple and obvious, aesthetically pleasing, and congruent with your overall brand.

Want more Google AdWords tips and advice? I put together an AdWords checklist to help you get your campaigns set up for success. Click here to get my Google AdWords checklist.

How to Tell If Your Marketing Works

My live Target Marketing Group Webinar yesterday, “How to Tell if Your Marketing Works,” deals with my favorite topic: measuring the results of direct marketing beyond traditional response rate metrics. Direct Marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement. They often don’t know what’s working and what’s not, because their real ROI is hidden inside their data.

My live Target Marketing Group Webinar yesterday, “How to Tell if Your Marketing Works,” deals with my favorite topic: measuring the results of direct marketing beyond traditional response rate metrics. If you missed it, you can access it on-demand here.

Direct Marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement. They often don’t know what’s working and what’s not, because their real ROI is hidden inside their data.

Analyzing direct marketing campaigns was a lot easier before the advent of the multichannel consumer. Sure, there were a certain number of orders that we couldn’t attribute to a specific promotion, but for the most part response rates ruled. Now, people check out products in stores and then buy online to get a better deal (think flat screen TVs). Or they shop online, decide what they want based on features and product reviews, and then buy in-person (think cars).

And they do all of this on multiple devices: their home computers, their work computers and their mobile phones and tablets. So it’s hard to track them.

Even though consumers engage with brands on their own terms across multiple platforms, many marketers are stuck measuring the results of individual tactics rather than taking a holistic view of measurement. So when a single email or display ad fails to achieve the target level of attributable sales within a specific period of time, then they consider it a failure. Even though the communication has made an impact on those who didn’t respond, they can’t measure it, so they don’t count it. And while many direct marketing practitioners now embrace the idea that their advertising has a cumulative effect of building a brand over time, most fall short of being able to quantify that ROI with meaningful metrics.

This webinar examines four ways to uncover hidden ROI from your direct marketing promotions:

  1. Using your database to look beyond response rates
  2. Benchmarking your brand awareness and tying increases in awareness to sales
  3. Creating an engagement score to measure the cumulative effect of various promotions over time
  4. Measuring the value of your social media

If you’re interested, check it out here.

Subject Lines in Sheeps’ Clothing: A Go or a No?

I’m sure you’ve seen it, if not used it yourself: Marketing emails wearing a friendly disguise, boasting “RE:” or “FW:” in their subject lines, usually with a real person’s name in the from line rather than a publication or company name. Obviously, the objective is to give the recipient a sense of familiarity. But is it worth the risks?

I’m sure you’ve seen it, if not used it yourself: Marketing emails wearing a friendly disguise, boasting “RE:” or “FW:” in their subject lines, usually with a real person’s name in the from line rather than a publication or company name.

Obviously, the objective is to give the recipient a sense of familiarity, or curiosity about whether this is a correspondence they were previously involved in, thus hopefully prompting an open.

I can tell you that in my three years copywriting for the Target Marketing Group’s marketing department, I’ve used subjects like these several times, as have most of my colleagues—and to be perfectly honest, we’ve seen impressive results as far as response and conversion rates.

Many marketers feel strongly that this method is simply too dishonest, erring on the devious rather than the clever side of crafty. Integrity and ethics are never negligible factors in what we do, even when a high open rate seems like the most important goal.

After some consideration, our marketing department decided to stash away the “RE”s and “FW”s for a while. Still, I thought I’d check out the stats for a few of these emails, to see if it was at all possible that the benefits outweighed the risks. Here’s what I found at a glance:

Subject 1
Re: Your Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk Registration

Subject 2
Re: 2014 email marketing plans

Subject 3
FW: Reasons to register

Registrants:

340

Registrants:

336

Registrants:

15

Open rate:

28%

Open rate:

18%

Open rate:

21%

Unsubs:

372

Unsubs:

309

Unsubs:

90

Spam Complaints:

6

Spam Complaints:

7

Spam Complaints:

4

The first two examples were used in promotions for free virtual conferences, while the third promoted a paid workshop. You can see that the open rates were rather good, especially the first of the three. You wouldn’t know from the table, but I can tell you that these registration numbers were among the highest of any email in these events’ respective campaigns.

Now for the bad news: Example No. 2 had the highest number of unsubscribers and spam complaints in its campaign by far. Nos. 1 and 3 were not the “winners” in this respect, but certainly too close to the top to be in the clear. We also received a small handful of, shall we say, colorfully phrased (so colorful they’d have been bleeped on network cable) criticisms from offended readers.

So, what’s the conclusion? Does the fact that all of these emails were huge successes purely in terms of conversion mean that a large majority of recipients were fans, or at least not bothered by the tactic? Or are those unsubs, spam complaints, or simply the principle of the thing too significant to handwave?

As of now, I treat them as I treat wasabi: Use sparingly and with extreme caution. I’d love to hear what you think, or if you’ve done some testing with it yourself!

How Much Should You Spend on Google AdWords?

One of the most frequent questions I receive about Google AdWords is, “How much should I be spending on my AdWords campaign?” That’s a great question, and the short answer is, “It depends.”

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss Phil Frost’s upcoming webinar “Old School SEO Is Dead: What you can do to adapt to Google and the new world of search marketing,” live on February 25. Click here to register.

One of the most frequent questions I receive about Google AdWords is, “How much should I be spending on my AdWords campaign?” That’s a great question, and the short answer is, “It depends.” One of the great things about AdWords is that it is highly customizable, allowing you to make the decisions that best fit your business needs. The downside is that it is not easy to see at a glance how best to manage your AdWords budget.

Fortunately, we have developed a formula that allows you to plug in your numbers and calculate a realistic budget. It breaks down into two phases: Testing and ROI.

Phase 1: Testing

When you begin your Google AdWords campaign, you will need to test several ideas to see what works for you and what doesn’t. While some campaigns are profitable right out of the gate, many others are not. Consider your testing phase to be a form of market research, and plan to invest those dollars without the expectation of getting them back.

Before you begin, gather the following information:

  • Target Keywords Cost Per Click (CPC): Google AdWords follows a pay per click (PPC) model. No matter how many times your ad appears, you only pay when a prospect actually clicks on it. For each keyword, you will pay a different amount of money for that click. This is known as the CPC, or cost per click. For example, Google estimates that “coffee shop” costs $2.90 per click, while “mortgage broker” costs $13.76.

Make a list of the keywords that you want to test, and then use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool to estimate the CPC for each of those keywords. Remember that this is just an estimate, so your actual cost may be higher or lower.

  • Time Frame: How long can you spend in the testing phase before you need to see your results? This is partly dependent on your industry and the keywords you choose. Some keywords have a higher search volume than others, making it easier to get results in a shorter time frame. Also consider your normal sales cycle. Do customers tend to purchase in one day, or does it take months for them to make up their minds? The lower your search volume and the longer your sales cycle, the longer it will take for you to obtain accurate data.
  • Sales Conversion Rates: As a general rule of thumb it’s safe to estimate that 1 in 100 people (1 percent) who view an AdWords ad will click on it, and 1 in 100 clicks (1 percent) will convert into a paying customer. These are estimates, and your ads might drive more or less traffic, but they work for planning purposes in the testing phase.

Now you are ready to put together your testing budget:

  • Per Keyword Cost to Test: If you can turn 1 in 100 clicks into a customer, then the estimated cost per sale is the cost per click (CPC) divided by 1 percent. For example, a keyword that costs $3 per click will cost you an estimated $300 for one sale. Go through the same process for each keyword you want to test, and add up the results to get your total budget.
  • Monthly Testing Budget: To generate a per-month Google AdWords budget, divide your total keyword costs to test by the number of months you want to allot to the testing phase. For example, if your total costs calculated earlier are $2,000, then you could budget $500 per month for 4 months. Or if you wanted to test faster, then $1,000 per month for 2 months.

Phase 2: ROI

Once your testing phase is complete, and you have generated a handful of sales from your ads, then it’s time to move into the ROI phase. The goal here is obviously to maximize return on investment from AdWords.

What should your budget be in the ROI phase? If your ads are profitable, then the answer is you should ditch your budget altogether! If every dollar you spend nets you more than a dollar in sales, it only makes sense to invest as many dollars as possible.

While many businesses focus on writing better ads, which improves the AdWords quality score and reduces the cost per click (CPC), that’s only half of the equation. The real magic comes from the EPC, or earnings per click.

To find your EPC, just multiply your customer value times your conversion rate. Your Customer Value is the average amount that one customer spends on your product or service minus your fulfillment costs. Your conversion rate is the percentage of clicks that become paying customers. So if the customer value is $100 and you have a 1 percent conversion rate, your EPC is $1.00.

Why Is EPC so important?

Well, it tells you exactly how much you can afford to pay per click for every single keyword in your account! If you pay more than your EPC, then you’ll be unprofitable. If you pay less, then you’re profitable. It’s as simple as that.

That means the key to AdWords success is to maximize your EPC by increasing both your customer value and your conversion rates.

Google AdWords is a highly customizable and extremely powerful advertising network, but it can be a bit overwhelming for newcomers. That’s why I put together an AdWords checklist to help you get your campaigns set up for success. Click here to get my Google AdWords checklist.

LinkedIn InMail Changes: What B-to-B Sellers Should Do Next

The new LinkedIn InMail changes are in effect—leaving sales reps and managers upset and confused. InMail just got much more expensive for average B-to-B sellers. However, you can now access a nearly unlimited supply of InMail credits under the new policy—by making one small change to how you craft InMail messages.

The new LinkedIn InMail changes are in effect—leaving sales reps and managers upset and confused. InMail just got much more expensive for average B-to-B sellers. However, you can now access a nearly unlimited supply of InMail credits under the new policy—by making one small change to how you craft InMail messages.

Yes, I said nearly unlimited. No, I’m not kidding, nor risking my integrity.

There is a way to send 100 InMail messages and get 193 credits back (for you to re-use again).

Briefly, What Changed and Why?
When InMail was introduced, LinkedIn’s “guaranteed response” policy rewarded spammy messages. Oops. So, as of January, LinkedIn gives InMail credits (that you buy) back—BUT only for InMails that earn a response in 90 days.

This is radically new.

Under the old system if you did not receive a response within a week, the InMail credit you purchased was given back. LinkedIn guaranteed a response. However, this rewards you for failing.

For example, let’s say you purchased 50 InMails and sent them. A (poor) 10 percent response rate allowed you to earn credits and send over 400 InMails per month. Thus, the policy increased the amount of spammy InMail messages being sent. The system rewarded it.

What the New Policy Means to You
Going forward, you will receive a credit (get your money back) for each InMail receiving a response within 90 days. You can re-use the money to invest again … and again and again. But if you earn no reply (or a poor response rate) your money is wasted.

LinkedIn’s old InMail policy rewarded sellers who weren’t successful with InMail.

LinkedIn’s new InMail policy rewards you (only) for writing messages that get good response. How good?

If you send 100 InMails per month, with a steady 20 percent response rate, you will end up with about 125 total InMails to send-based on InMails credited back to your account.

How to Send 100 InMails and Get 193 Credits Back
If you’re an average InMail user, you’re seeing credits vanish lately. But there is a way to send 100 InMail messages and get 98 returned to you. Or even 193 credits back (for you to re-use again).

How? Write effective InMail messages.

For example, let’s say you earn a 50 percent response rate on your first batch of 100 InMails sent. Over time (as you use the InMail credits returned to you) you earn a total of 98 credits. Not bad. You get nearly all of your investment back for re-use.

But what if you were really good? Let’s say you earned a 70 percent response rate to your InMail messages? Hey, it’s possible. I have students who earn 73 percent response rates.

With a 70 percent response rate, you would earn 193 InMail credits (of your original 100) to re-use for prospecting.

In actual practice the math is a bit messy, due to the delays between prospects responding and LinkedIn’s re-issuing credits. But you get the picture.

Should You Stop Using InMail?
As much as it may hurt, your never-ending stream of InMail credits were part of LinkedIn’s lack of foresight. If you are considering investing in InMail you’re in luck. Learn from this experience. Most B-to-B sellers who invested in LinkedIn Sales Navigator (and InMail) are complaining loudly. Many are resigning accounts.

And they should.

As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Change for the better.

What to Do Next
LinkedIn’s InMail policy change is another signal. Another warning. A reason to abandon fairy-tale beliefs like:

  • Email prospecting doesn’t cost anything when it fails-or under-performs
  • It’s mostly a numbers game
  • Getting response and appointments means sending more emails

Yes, it is a numbers game. Just like cold-calling. But what is the basis of an effective cold-call routine?

An effective communications process. More specifically: A systematic, repeatable, scalable way to turn calls in to leads. I recently described this technique—gave next steps and templates to help make it easy.

If you aren’t serious about learning an effective process, you won’t experience predictable success.

“Lazy individuals will still be able to send indifferent InMails, but they won’t be rewarded for it.” says Bruce Johnston of The Practical Social Media blog.

“The new InMail system will reward people with imagination that experiment to get optimal response rates,” says Johnston.

Whether you pay cash for LinkedIn InMail credits or send standard emails to prospects … if it doesn’t work, it costs you. Cash or wasted time-time you should have spent doing something productive!

How do you feel about LinkedIn’s new InMail policy? What do you intend to do about it, looking forward?

How Big Is Your Halo? 3 Ways to Measure the Branding Effect of Your Direct Promotions

Direct marketers take pride in accountability. But as I’ve said before, they can be their own worst enemies when it comes to measurement. They’re good at measuring things that are easy to count—clicks, page views, response rates, cost per lead, etc. But they struggle with measuring the long-term or cumulative effects that the branding in their promotions has on current and future sales—people who buy, but not as a result of a specific promotion, the so-called halo effect.

Direct marketers take pride in accountability. But as I’ve said before, they can be their own worst enemies when it comes to measurement. They’re good at measuring things that are easy to count—clicks, page views, response rates, cost per lead, etc.

But they struggle with measuring the long-term or cumulative effects that the branding in their promotions has on current and future sales—people who buy, but not as a result of a specific promotion, the so-called halo effect.

Consider big direct marketing brands like 1-800-Flowers.com or Omaha Steaks. These brand names have been built through direct marketing promotions over time and, as a result, people self-direct to their Web and phone sales channels.

But most direct marketers don’t know how to account for this halo effect, and when they work with response rates only, at best, they shortchange their results; and at worst, they get fooled by failing to account for those who buy without responding.

Case in point: A few years ago, I analyzed a data set from a multivariate direct mail matrix test that had 12 cells: four list segments, four offers and four creative executions.

Working off of response rates alone, we identified the winning list segment, offer and creative. But digging deeper by matching the solicitation file to the sales file, we discovered that from a revenue-per-prospect standpoint, these response rate winners were not the best revenue producers. Further analysis showed that from an ROI standpoint, they were actually the worst. In fact, the offer with the highest response rate (a free trial) produced a negative ROI when compared with a control cell: People in the control group who did not receive this offer actually spent more than the ones who responded to the offer for a free trial.

Here are three ways you can account for the halo effect:

1. Compare customer sales data to your promotion history. This is a good starting point. See who was exposed to your promotions and purchased without responding

2. Index brand awareness to sales over time. Take a look at this post for a methodology to measure this metric.

3. Create an engagement score that counts brand exposures and index it to sales over time. More on a methodology to measure this metric next time.

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.

Are Autoresponders Killing Email Marketing?

Two events in the same week have triggered an email unsubscribe flurry on my behalf. First, a change in my spam provider is permitting more unwanted emails than usual to leak through. And second, a conversation with a long-time colleague and regular reader of my blog, where she wondered if marketing automation software is being abused to a point where we’re drowning

Two events in the same week have triggered an email unsubscribe flurry on my behalf. First, a change in my spam provider is permitting more unwanted emails than usual to leak through. And second, a conversation with a long-time colleague and regular reader of my blog, where she wondered if marketing automation software is being abused to a point where we’re drowning in email and ignoring it more than before.

A smart strategy used by many direct marketers is the invitation to opt-in for emails. Often there is a carrot dangled in front of prospects to opt-in, such as a few dollars off an order, a free report, the promise of being the first to be informed, or because they’ve made a purchase transaction. Of course, legit direct marketers always assure privacy and provide a link in their emails to unsubscribe.

As an outcome of this strategy, marketing automation software companies report impressive stats about autoresponder welcome email performance:

  • The average open rate for welcome emails is a whopping 50 percent, making them significantly more effective than email newsletters.
  • Welcome messages typically have four times the open rate and five times the clickthrough rate of other bulk mailings.
  • Subscribers who receive a welcome email show more long-term engagement with a brand.

What these stats don’t reveal is the long-term effect after time of high frequency marketing automation software autoresponder emails.

Of course, opens, clicks and unsubscribe rates are good early warnings if you’re emailing too much. If your unsubscribe rate is 0.5 percent, according to various email deployment firms, you’re performance is great. Even 1 percent is good. Some email providers suggest industry unsubscribe norms are acceptable at 2 percent.

But I wonder how many of us have given up on the step to unsubscribe and simply delete. Is there a tipping point where enough is enough?

One day last week I made an inquiry for a direct mail list from the automated website of a mailing list organization. I gave them my email (a fair trade for quickly accessing counts). Obviously, the organization’s automated system knew I had run some counts. I didn’t order that day, but suggested to a client that they place an order. An hour later, an autoresponder asked if I needed help with my unfulfilled order.

Smart, I thought.

But then the next day, another autoresponder email arrived. While a bit annoyed with seeing still another email not even a full 24 hours later after I didn’t purchase, they presented me an offer of 15 percent off my order.

Smarter, I thought.

Until I realized that, had I ordered the day before, I would have paid full price (and would never have known because no doubt the marketing automation software would have placed me in a totally different sequence of follow-up messages). Such is a marketers’ challenge with autoresponders. Annoy me by sending them repeatedly, or too soon; surprise me with a 15 percent discount, but tick me off when I realize I could have paid more than needed had I ordered on the spot. Oh, and embarrass me when I contact the client to say “hold off on ordering!” And we wonder why shopping carts go abandoned. Marketers have trained people not to order on the spot because, if we wait, there may be a better deal.

Poor email content, little purpose and too high frequency of emails isn’t the fault of marketing automation software. It’s the fault of the marketers who are abusing a program that regularly, and systematically, automates the email marketing contact cycle.

What do you think? Too many email autoresponders? Poor email content and reason to email? Or are marketers sending email at what seems to be a reasonable pace?

Monitoring clicks, opens and unsubscribes reveals the true answer to these questions. But sometimes one wonders if the relatively inexpensive cost of email marketing is encouraging some marketers to abuse sending email, and that they’re not paying attention to their email marketing metrics.

Email Marketing: To Open or Not To Open …

For many of us, choosing the from name is a simple task. We send it from the person to whom we want the recipient to respond or connect, but hold on … did you test that?

For many of us, choosing the from name is a simple task. We send it from the person to whom we want the recipient to respond or connect, but hold on … did you test that?

One of our clients sends more than a million emails daily to their subscribers. They have built their list using a variety of resources, one of which was to purchase three million self-identified target recipients, but they also used co-registration with a daily newsletter offer to acquire another million names over a span of a few months. The co-registration names were a double-opt in so ideally should have produced stellar results and highly qualified names, but that didn’t actually turn out to be the case.

After sending to the purchased list, we tossed it completely due to the very high number of spam traps we managed to trigger in our first two sends. With those names eliminated, we focused on the co-registration list, which we segmented into large groups to receive the daily message they had been offered. This was done through more than a dozen different ESPs.

As we saw it, job one was to validate the email addresses were deliverable, not spam traps, and were—at best—being opened. As we suspected, a number of them were spam traps, so we dialed it back and a great deal of time to a deep-cleanse effort of sending in very small batches (about 200 per day per ESP) in order to more easily stop the cycle if we irritated more spam sensors. (It takes a long, damn time to send to millions of recipients at the rate of 200 per day.)

Using this process, once we reached 250,000 verified emails, we sent to those in larger groups through our three best-performing ESPs—those with whom we historically saw the best deliverability rates. We continued these two steps with the balance of the names and applied the deep-cleanse process for new names still coming in through the co-registration sites (about 500 names per day).

The combination of the deep cleanse and slow send improved our results drastically. All emails were deliverable, unsubscribes were low, but open rates were still lagging. Since this was a daily message to which the users had specifically subscribed, we were pretty sure there was room for improvement even though the list was growing faster than the combined attrition rate (unsubscribes + undeliverable + spam complaints), and traffic to this site was flourishing.

While our client does not sell anything on their site, they do sell ad space in the daily email, monthly newsletter and on their website. The number of views for these ads is critical to our client’s revenue. Emails going unopened, being marked as spam, or gaining an unsubscribe are not generating revenue in a click or impressions ad placement.

Regardless of which email application the subscriber uses, there are two things they see: from and subject line. Some email applications will also show the preheader text, a preview, or other snippets to give the recipient more clues about the content. We chose to tackle first the sender information, and then work on the subject line. After all, there’s only so many ways we could say, “Here’s the daily email to which you have subscribed.”

The target audience for this daily email is largely male—not all male, mind you, but nearing the 85 percent mark. I suspected males would rather receive emails from women, so we started there. We also used tried other sender names and email addresses:

  • Company name
  • Site owner’s name (she has some visibility in this space, so we tried to parlay that recognition into opens)
  • General email address
  • Mature-sounding woman’s name
  • Young-sounding, woman’s name
  • Sexy woman’s name
  • Mature-sounding male name (in line with the target audience age group)
  • Young-sounding male name

We didn’t just change the from name, we created a matching from address for continuity and credibility (rather than use a system address such as newsletter@companysite.com). For instance, if Brittni Jones was the from name, the address was brittni@companysite.com

What we found, and what I’m sure you already know, is sender matters—in a big, important way; at least for this client.

I was right on one front: This primarily male constituency did open far more emails from Brittni than Edith, but they also liked getting emails from Trevor, a very close second. They didn’t read nearly as many emails from Bob, though Bob was more popular than using the company name. The actual statistics for this campaign are not important; your company would experience completely different results. The takeaway here is about testing and being relevant—even at the sender name and address level.

If your opens are suffering, think first about whether or not John Smith is convincing enough to get me to open, then remember: test, track, tweak. Repeat.