Use Your Ideal Customer Avatar to Boost Google Ads Performance

There are a lot of components involved in a successful Google Ads campaign, but there’s one overarching theme that connects most of them: thinking like your customer.

There are a lot of components involved in a successful Google Ads campaign, but there’s one overarching theme that connects most of them: thinking like your customer. Many small business owners who do their own marketing are simply too attached to what they do to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective. An ideal customer avatar can help.

What Is an Ideal Customer Avatar?

An ideal customer avatar — also known as an ideal customer persona or profile — is a hypothetical person who would purchase your goods or services. You may have one or a few, depending on your business, but you don’t want to have too many — the key word here is “ideal.” Avatars are quite granular, which helps you really get in the mindset of your customer. To start creating an avatar, think about your customer’s:

  • Basic demographics (age, sex, location, marital status)
  • Income bracket
  • Education level
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Occupation
  • Household size

This is all useful, but next, we’re really going to dig deep. Here’s where you think about the mindset of your customer and go beyond the numbers and stats. Ask yourself:

  • Why do they need your product or service? How will purchasing your product or service improve their lives?
  • What are your customer’s goals?
  • What are your customer’s core values?
  • What challenges do they face? What are their pain points?
  • What would they be searching for on Google that would lead them to your business? (This question will also help you decide which keywords to target.)

To really help you connect with potential customers, you can take this a step further an write a profile of your avatar in narrative form.

Using an Ideal Customer Avatar for Google Ads

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with Google Ads is to market what you think the benefits of your product or service are. When you do this, you can easily fall into the trap of being too vague and assuming that the very existence of your business is compelling enough to drive sales.

When your Google Ads aren’t customized to your ideal customer, it’s just like launching a campaign with no parameters in place. Throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks is never good marketing — it’s all about targeting the right customer.

Take the ideal customer avatar you created and think about what would prompt them to click through to your website and make a purchase. Go back to those questions we asked earlier and use them to create customized ad copy. Tell them how your business:

  • Will make their lives better.
  • Will help them meet their goals.
  • Fits in with their values.
  • Will help them overcome their challenges.
  • Is what they’ve been looking for.

Use your most compelling call to action in your Google Ad; keep it short, punchy, clear, and direct. Then, build on that call to action with a custom landing page for each ad you create. The landing pages should touch on all of the points above and flesh out the CTA in your ad.

Naturally, you’ll want to take the demographics you’ve decided upon for your ideal customer avatar and use those in targeting your ads. Remember, you don’t want people clicking on your ads if they’re not going to make a purchase, so don’t be afraid to target a very small subset of Google users.

Expanding Beyond Google Search Ads

When you’re ready to expand your ads beyond Google Search, then you need to expand on your customer avatar. Ask and answer questions like:

  • What publications do your customers read?
  • What podcasts do your customers listen to?
  • What types of websites are your customers visiting?
  • What other complimentary businesses are your customers buying from?
  • What products or services do your customers buy before or after purchasing from your business?

The answers to these questions will help guide your decisions about how to expand your campaigns to other ad networks like Google Display, YouTube Ads, and Facebook Ads.

Want more tips to improve your Google Ads performance? Click here to grab a copy of our Ultimate Google Ads checklist.

 

 

Why Marketers Should Tap Into the Potential of Bing Ads, the Dark Horse of the Search World

With the introduction of the Microsoft Audience Network (MSAN), enhanced AI capabilities and increased partnerships within the last 12 months, Bing Ads is becoming an even more advanced channel that should be tapped to effectively reach the right audience at key moments.

Bing has often been an overlooked publisher in the search world, left in the shadows of its older rival, Google Ads, and simply not given the credit it’s due. However, marketers shouldn’t overlook the dark horse that is Bing Ads. With the introduction of the Microsoft Audience Network (MSAN), enhanced AI capabilities and increased partnerships within the last 12 months, Bing is becoming an even more advanced channel that should be tapped to effectively reach the right audience at key moments.

Partnerships and AI

The long-standing partnership between Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo continues to evolve; starting in March 2019, Bing began exclusively servicing Yahoo Search traffic, which included traffic currently acquired from Oath Ad Platforms (previously known as Yahoo Gemini) and other search platforms. With Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn came the ability to target LinkedIn users based on job function and title, an exceptionally important development for those in the B2B sector, and a feature that Google simply cannot match.

A few key placements and sites unique to Bing that marketers should consider adding to their advertising efforts include the trifecta of MSN, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Edge. This trifecta enables marketers to deliver high-quality native ad placements across devices regardless of audience, while benefiting from Bing’s promise never to show ads next to sensitive categories such as tragic current events to help protect brands. Bing offers two layouts for native ad formats: image-based ads and feed-based ads. Imaged-based ads are highly visual and appear across multiple types of platforms. Plus, a big bonus to marketers is the ability to import their current assets from what they’re already running on the Google Display Network (GDN) or Facebook. Feed-based ads are product-based and require the use of product audiences which retarget customers on products they’ve already viewed or even added to cart but didn’t finish the check-out process.

Chatbots offer another great way to provide on-demand answers to customers, and Microsoft and Bing stand are at the forefront. This real-time ad extension format can inspire users to purchase an item or answer specific questions to help better service their needs. In fact, Bing projects that 95 percent of customer interactions will be powered by AI bots by 2025. This is something that Bing has been testing for some time now, but Google has barely set in motion.

The MSAN Factor for Bing Ads

There’s been a lot of talk about keywords becoming a thing of the past and looking toward audiences as the means to effectively reach consumers in the future, causing a ripple effect across the industry. In fact, Google AdWords dropped ‘Words’ from its name last June (announced at Google Marketing Live 2018), as the company transitions its focus to the ads themselves. But what does Bing have going for it in this aspect that Google doesn’t? The MSAN component. MSAN is powered by AI and machine learning known as the Microsoft Graph. This intelligent tool contains search and web activity and helps isolate trends to help reach a marketer’s target audience. Bing does not allow for commercial data contained in the Graph to be used for targeting ads; any data is privately stored, owned and anonymized by Bing — a critical factor in a world where privacy is at the forefront of both consumers’ and marketers’ minds.

MSAN and Google Ads’ audience network have similarities like remarketing, in-market, custom audiences and product audiences. Additionally, advertisers can target by age, gender location and device. But the real shining star of MSAN and Bing Ads is LinkedIn profile targeting. This unique feature allows advertisers to apply LinkedIn targeting to campaign and ad group levels and target by industry (with up to 145 unique industries), by company name (over 80,000) and by job function (26). Marketers can apply these targeting settings for text ads, shopping and dynamic search ads.

Artificial Intelligence Ethics

Marketers are not the only ones watching Microsoft’s next move. In a surprising revelation, the Vatican is teaming-up with Microsoft for a prize to “promote ethics in artificial intelligence.” Pope Francis even met with Microsoft’s President Brad Smith on Feb. 13 to discuss the Catholic church’s position on AI. The person who best defends their dissertation on ethical concerns involving AI will win a trip to the Microsoft headquarters and a prize of 6,000 Euros.

With all the recent talk around privacy concerns and the role tech giants play, it’s a smart move for Microsoft to approach the apprehensions head-on. It’s particularly timely since President Trump announced an executive order earlier this month outlining a plan on how the country will get ahead of AI and how the government can work directly with AI companies. However, with the public scrutiny of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal and Google’s share of privacy concerns, Microsoft is proving its reputation with no major incidents top-of-mind. The Microsoft Graph provides   another layer to help reassure their commitment to protecting consumer data.

If marketers have been on the fence about tapping into Bing Ads’ potential, there is no greater time to start acting on it than now. Bing’s increased partnerships, addition of MSAN and intelligent solutions, and commitment to ethical responsibilities shouldn’t be underestimated. The odds may not have favored Microsoft products like Bing in the past, but these innovations mean marketers’ investments now will pay high dividends in the future.

Bing’s New Audience Targeting Tools: What You Should Know

Remember Bing? Although the SEM industry still runs through Google, Microsoft isn’t sitting on its laurels. And just this summer, Bing Ads launched two important audience targeting features that let marketers connect with buyer-intent consumers.

Bing logoRemember Bing? Although the SEM industry still runs through Google, Microsoft isn’t sitting on its laurels. And just this summer, Bing Ads launched two important audience targeting features that let marketers connect with buyer-intent consumers.

These features are in-market audiences and custom audiences. In-market audiences let marketers target people who appear likely to be on the verge of making purchases — more on that in a bit. Custom audiences, on the other hand, work similar to Google’s remarketing feature, letting marketers target people who’ve already visited their websites.

In marketing, knowing your customer is only half the battle. In fact, the hard part is figuring out how to reach your intended audiences. Bing Ads, Google and Facebook already offered expansive interest and demographic targeting, but the inclusion of intent makes the game that much easier. Now, in addition to writing buyer-oriented ads that click through to sales pages, marketers can tighten the funnel even further by closing in on those most likely to make purchases.

Let’s go over these new features of Bing Ads and what you should know to get the most benefit.

Bing for In-Market Audiences

Grabbing consumers’ attention when they’re ready to purchase is huge. Imagine you’re at a shopping mall with no intention to buy anything specific. Sure, you might not leave empty handed, but you’re far more likely to take your time window shopping. Now, imagine you’re at the mall with the goal of buying a new pair of running shoes. You probably know which stores to visit, and you might even have a specific shoe in mind. More likely than not, you’ll leave with a new pair of shoes.

That’s the power of buyer intent. And when marketers can connect with consumers in that crucial moment, they’re much more likely to close the deal — or, in digital marketing, to get conversions.

That’s in-market audiences in a nutshell. Bing Ads is now offering 14 different in-market audiences to marketers in the United States. The audience categories are quite broad; four categories are dedicated to finance, three focus on travel and two focus on automobiles. Others include things like “apparel/clothing” and “hobbies & leisure/toys & games.” However, Bing says that more in-market audience segments are on the way.

7 Google AdWords Features You Probably Aren’t Using, But Should Be

Google AdWords is loaded with potential — and if you haven’t explored the platform’s latest features, then you’re probably missing out on opportunities to improve your advertising performance. Hundreds of new features launched over the past couple years, and there’s a good chance you missed a few of them.

Anchor Man AdWords Features MemeGoogle AdWords features are loaded with potential — and if you haven’t explored the platform’s latest features, then you’re probably missing out on opportunities to improve your advertising performance. Hundreds of new features launched over the past couple years, and there’s a good chance you missed a few of them.

In this article, we’ll review seven AdWords features you should consider testing in your ad campaigns.

1. Google AdWords Editor

First things first — learn about the Google AdWords editor. Thanks to this tool, you can download all of your campaign data to your desktop hard drive and make all kinds of adjustments without the lag from page loads or slow connection speeds. It’s especially handy if you’re dealing with several campaigns or accounts at once.

When finished, just upload your data back into AdWords. It’s as if you were working online the entire time. This tool won’t single-handedly improve the performance of your campaigns, but it can certainly boost your productivity.

2. Ad Customizers

Including details about sales and limited-time offers is a great way to drive interest in your AdWords ads. Few things are more motivating than the thought of missing out. However, including this information in your ad copy used to be a tedious (and sometimes monumental) chore. Counting down with a limited-time offer meant manually updating your ads on a daily basis; large store-wide sales meant writing unique ad copy to match every discounted product.

Fortunately, Google unleashed its Ad Customizers. These tools allow advertisers to dynamically change ad copy according to certain conditions. If your ad mentions a limited-time sale, simply list an end date in the Ad Customizer tool and the countdown will be automated.

The Ad Customizers tool saves a ton of time while helping your ad stand out from the competition.

3. Callout Extensions

Experienced marketers are familiar with sitelink extensions, but many people aren’t yet familiar with callout extensions. A callout extension is an extra line of text that appears beneath ad copy and above sitelink extensions. Unlike sitelinks, callout extensions are not hyperlinked; it’s simply a chance to double-down on product benefits and customer incentives.

For maximum impact, try using callout extensions along with sitelink extensions. Your ad will be 20 percent taller if both extensions appear, and that can attract eyeballs and boost clickthrough rates.

4. Website Call Conversions

Want to learn how many phone calls you get as a result of your Google ads? Until recently, that wasn’t possible from within AdWords — you could only track calls when visitors clicked on the click-to-call extension button. If the extension didn’t show, or if visitors clicked through to your website before calling, then their phone calls wouldn’t be tracked as AdWords conversions.

That has changed, thanks to Website Call Conversions. With this feature, you can dynamically place a Google forwarding number on your website that will keep track of phone calls from your ads. Setting up this feature is fairly simple, although you’ll need to place a piece of JavaScript code on webpages where you want your forwarding number to appear. Anyone with web development experience can handle this easily.

7 Quick and Easy SEO Tips for Small Businesses

Start off simple. If you’re new to SEO, that’s the best advice I can offer. Search engine optimization is an ongoing effort with many moving parts, and the payoffs are never immediate. But you don’t need to be an SEO guru to start moving the needle on your search engine rankings. Start with some simple tips to boost your SEO — and work at them consistently — and good things will happen.

Easy SEO TipsStart off simple.

If you’re new to SEO, that’s the best advice I can offer. Search engine optimization is an ongoing effort with many moving parts, and the payoffs are never immediate. But you don’t need to be an SEO guru to start moving the needle on your search engine rankings. Start with some simple tips to boost your SEO — and work at them consistently — and good things will happen.

Here are seven easy SEO tips that any small business owner can do. You don’t need to be a Web designer or have years of experience in marketing. Of course, you’ll want to learn more about SEO and expand your efforts as time goes on. Until then, these tips are more than enough to get you on your way.

1. Start a Blog

Content is king. That’s an old SEO adage that you’ll hear repeatedly if you hadn’t heard it already. Google’s algorithm is programmed to favor websites with unique, relevant content that’s highly useful to visitors.

Starting a blog is a great way to get useful content on your site. And there’s so much you can do with a blog. You can write about new products and industry trends, or you can engage your customers by offering helpful advice. Blog posts can help to establish your business as a local authority, and they can also be shared on social media to provide backlinks and positive social media signals — both of which are helpful for your website’s SEO.

Google’s search algorithms also favor websites with regularly updated content. Maintaining a blog serves this purpose. And if shoppers like what you have to say, they’ll be more likely to bookmark your site and return for future purchases.

2. Create a Google My Business Account

Creating a Google My Business profile allows your business to be shown in the local “maps” results of Google.com. If your business has walk-in customers, then that’s a big deal. Think about how many people use their smartphones to find nearby places to eat, shop and run errands. You can get an influx of new customers from the few minutes needed to start a Google My Business profile.

3. Start Building Backlinks

Building a network of backlinks (hyperlinks to your website from other sites) can establish your business as an authority in your field, resulting in a higher search ranking. To start building backlinks, create profiles for your business on sites such as Yelp, Bing Local and Foursquare. Build a company page on LinkedIn, and create a YouTube channel if you can offer informative or instructional videos — the possibilities are endless.

As you start profiles on different sites, remember to list your business information exactly as it’s listed in Google My Business. Doing so will boost your SEO efforts.

4. Get Your Titles, Headers and Meta Description Tags in Order

Titles and headers help Google determine which search terms are relevant for pages throughout your website. For example, if you owned a formalwear shop, then the wedding dress page should have the term “wedding dresses” in the page Title and a variation of that phrase in the <h1> header. The page Title is not visible on the page so you’ll need to view the source code to review your page Titles. The <h1> header is usually the main headline above the page content, and there should only be one, unique <h1> per page.

Like the page Titles, the meta description is also not visible on the page, but it does appear with your website in the search results. You can think of your Title and Meta Description like an advertisement in Google’s search results.

5. Ask Your Customers to Write Reviews

Reviews are helpful for small business SEO especially when they’re positive. Always ask your customers if they’ll post reviews to your Google My Business page or any other online review sites you’ve joined.

And really, you should create profiles on as many of these sites as possible. Angie’s List, Yelp and TripAdvisor are three of the most popular. Remember to make sure your name, address, and phone number (aka your NAP) on these sites match exactly with your Google My Business profile. As noted above, these citations can make a sizeable impact on your local SEO. Positive reviews can be even more impactful because they can lead to more prospects turning into customers.

6. Mention Your City and State

Boost your local SEO by frequently listing your company’s city and state throughout your website. Don’t overdo it, but putting this information in your meta tags, your home page <h1> header and throughout your content is helpful.

If you have a blog — which was one of the tips listed above — then articles pertaining to how your business is relevant to your city and region are also helpful. Mentions of your city and state can influence Google to favor your website in local search results.

7. Make Sure Your Site Works on Mobile

More people search Google nowadays using smartphones and tablets than desktops and laptops. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile devices, then your mobile search engine ranking is likely to take a hit. Remember that Google’s algorithm is tuned to connect people with sites that offer good user experiences. A site that’s not optimized for mobile won’t display correctly and may not even function as intended.

WordPress and other online publishing tools offer free website templates that are ready for mobile users. So you’re probably in good shape if you use this kind of platform. However, you may need to enlist a Web developer to convert your site for mobile. While this could be expensive, it’s well worth the cost. Otherwise, you risk losing more than half of your potential online customers.

Conclusion

Getting started in SEO doesn’t have to be a big deal, and this guide proves it. Anything you can do to improve your SEO – even the small things – will pay off over time. Just be patient and don’t get overwhelmed. Keep your process simple, and learn new things when you can. Eventually, your quick-hitting efforts will snowball and your website will climb in the rankings.

Want more SEO tips?  Click here to get a copy of our Ultimate Local SEO Checklist.

Optimizing Your Bing Ads Campaign: The Basics

Bing’s search engine market share has grown to 21 percent. Google is still your best bet for reaching the largest number of customers, but to neglect your Bing Ads campaigns is a mistake. Fortunately, optimizing campaigns in Bing Ads is similar to the process of auditing your Google AdWords campaigns. Read on to learn more about the basics of optimizing in Bing Ads.

Optimize - Improving ResultsThere’s no denying that Google is the undisputed king of search engine advertising, and the potential reach of Microsoft’s search platform pales in comparison. However, Bing’s popularity is rising.

In late 2015, Comscore reported that Bing’s search engine market share had grown to 21 percent (Google accounts for 64 percent), probably because of Bing’s incorporation into Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile and Surface devices. Google is still your best bet for reaching the largest number of customers, but to neglect your Bing Ads campaigns is a mistake — one that grows bigger by the day.

Fortunately, optimizing campaigns in Bing Ads is similar to the process of auditing your Google AdWords campaigns. Some of the reports and user options are different, but the general tenants are the same. Read on to learn more about the basics of optimizing in Bing Ads.

Running Reports — Know Your Options

Just like the first step of cooking is to gather your ingredients, the first step of optimizing is to collect your data. Bing Ads provides the following reports with uniquely beneficial information:

  • Performance reports: Track the overall performance of your efforts at the account, campaign, ad group, ad and keyword levels. See important metrics such as your CTRs and impressions.
  • Change history reports: Want to revisit how you’ve changed your campaigns over time? Just run these reports to see your change history.
  • Targeting reports: See which audiences your campaigns are reaching.
  • Campaign analytics reports: Designed to aid conversions, these reports help you understand how visitors are interacting with your website’s landing page.
  • Billing and budget reports: Good for accounting, these reports offer the nuts-and-bolts of your campaign spending and billing over time.

It’s a good idea to regularly generate each type of report. Each report type can be customized to highlight the most relevant data for your needs, and you can also schedule automated reports that hit your email as attachments.

Pump Up Low Impressions

Is your campaign getting unusually low impressions? This could be happening for several reasons, most of which relate to your keywords. Open the keyword list for your underperforming ad group and look for keyword disapprovals and low keyword bids. Bing’s reviewers sometimes disapprove keywords based on landing page relevance or various compliance rules. And sometimes, you just need to bid more.

Negative keywords might also be hindering your ad’s visibility. Negative keywords can save you lots of money by filtering out visitors who wouldn’t be likely to convert on your landing page, but misusing negative keywords can have the opposite impact.

Or it could be that people who are seeing your ad just aren’t interested. Try changing up your ad copy, and run a targeting report to make sure you’re reaching the right audience.

Reverse Low Clickthrough Rates

If your ad is getting plenty of views but not many clicks — which you can see in your performance report — then you must make your ad more compelling. Define what makes your business special, include an irresistible offer and give a call to action (i.e. “Contact Us for a Free Estimate”). Compare your ad with competing ads for insights about what you’re missing. You can also experiment with dynamic text, which plugs the actual terms people search for directly into your ads.

Capturing Conversions

The whole point of online advertising is getting conversions on your landing page. If visitors are reaching your site but not taking your desired action — whether that’s making a purchase or filling out a contact form — then that’s a problem.

The Universal Event Tracking tool is Bing’s version of conversion tracking. This tool generates a pixel that you place in the code throughout your website — then, you can run a campaign analytics goals report to see how visitors move through your site. From this, you can get invaluable insights about who converts versus who bounces.

Bing Ads lets you include dynamic text in your destination URLs, sending visitors to landing pages that specifically target their needs. The findings in your campaign analytics goals report might also reveal keywords or ad copy variations that aren’t capturing the right audiences.

Prepare for Editorial Reviews

Bing Ads has several compliance regulations enforced through its editorial review process. The purpose of this process is to maintain a high degree of quality across the Bing Ads search network. You may see real-time alerts requiring you to change your ads and keywords as you optimize, or a recently revised campaign may be tagged with an editorial disapproval. Most disapprovals are easily correctable and not a cause for long-term concern. As an advertiser, though, you should periodically familiarize yourself with Bing Ads’ policies.

Summary

Optimizing Bing Ads campaigns can result in greater revenues and fewer losses — and in business, both outcomes are great for your bottom line. Resist pouring all your efforts into Google Adwords, and remember that Bing Ads is actually growing at a faster rate. Microsoft is committed to integrating Bing into its latest computing and smartphone products. You can capitalize on that by reaching a sizeable audience with economical costs per click, but only if you put in the effort.

Want more digital marketing tips? Click here to get the Internet Marketing Survival Guide.

Social Media and Google: How Twitter and Facebook Can Build Your Search Rankings

Anticipating trends in Google’s complex search algorithms is the holy grail of search engine marketing — and for years, many online marketers have operated under the assumption that social media signals play increasingly vital roles in building page rankings. Are they right?

Social vs. SearchAnticipating trends in Google’s complex search algorithms is the holy grail of search engine marketing — and for years, many online marketers have operated under the assumption that social media signals play an increasingly vital role in building page rankings.

Are they right?

The answer to this question is less clear than you think. On the “yes” side, you’ll find deeply knowledgeable Web analysts and marketing specialists who claim the most compelling data is in their corner. On the “no” side is Google, stating more than once that social media doesn’t play a direct role in search engine rankings. If you believe Google to be a simple, straightforward company, then the search giant’s denials might be the only answer you need. But the evidence to the contrary is compelling, significant and impossible to ignore.

So what should you believe? Just how effectively can sites like Twitter and Facebook help marketers build their rankings, if at all? And how deeply should you venture down the social media rabbit hole to improve the rankings for your business? Knowledge is power in all facets of online marketing, so we’ll answer these questions by breaking down each side of this issue.

YES: Social Signals Cause Improved Rankings
The prevailing view among many online marketing experts is that Facebook and Twitter do play a role in search rankings. In many cases, marketers have found that liking or sharing Facebook posts, tweeting or retweeting links and +1ing posts on Google+ seems to benefit page rankings. And these benefits don’t appear to be marginal; according to a 2013 study by Searchmetrics, Google’s algorithms valued Google+ and Facebook shares as being more important for rankings than backlinks, which are historically the bread and butter of search engine marketing.

Two interesting case studies attempted to provide more definitive answers regarding the importance of social media signals in Google. The first study, by Shrushti.com, attempted to use social media to rank a page containing the keyword “Argos Voucher Codes March 2013.” At first, the page they were using (which had just two lines of duplicate content) was ranked in the 400th position for its keyword query. After a few days, their page jumped to the top of the rankings in Google.co.uk — without using backlinks.

The next important study was by Moz.com, which produced a beginner’s SEO guide that was referenced in a tweet by Smashing Magazine. Almost immediately, the guide soared in the search rankings for the keyword term “beginner’s guide,” and Moz.com enjoyed a week-long slug of organic traffic.

A larger-scale test was done by TastyPlacements, an Austin-based SEO firm. TastyPlacements created six websites that emulated businesses in six similarly sized cities. Each website was in the same niche, and their domains were all structured identically. After being online for 10 months, TastyPlacements started marketing five of the websites using different social media signals; the sixth website was left as a control site.

What the study found was astonishing: One website jumped 14.63 percent in the rankings after getting 100 followers to a linked Google+ business page, and another rose 9.44 percent after getting 300 Google+ “plus one” votes. The site marketed on Facebook rose 6.9 percent after getting 70 Facebook shares and 50 likes on its business page. Two of the sites were marketed on Twitter; one got a 2.88 percent bump with 50 tweets and retweets, while the other site saw a rankings drop by 1.22 percent after doing nothing more than gaining followers. The control site that wasn’t pushed on social media experienced virtually no change in its rankings.

So, what does this all mean? It means that, somehow, social media signals do appear to translate to better search engine rankings. But is this really a direct cause-and-effect relationship?

NO: Social Signals Don’t Cause Better Rankings
Whether it’s the honest truth or a smokescreen, Google officials have repeated that social signals aren’t responsible for changes in search engine rankings. The most recent admission was in August 2015, when Google webmaster trends analyst John Mueller was asked about this during a Google hangout session.

“Not directly, no,” was his answer.

There are legitimate reasons to believe Google’s insistence despite data that appears to show otherwise. First, consider the logistics of plugging social signals into Google’s algorithms. Google treats each Facebook and Twitter post as its own Web page, and indexing and periodically reviewing the flood of daily posts would exceed even Google’s vast capabilities. Also, Google’s bots can’t always crawl all posts on Facebook and Twitter, and verifying the quality of social media signals is much more difficult than gauging the quality of websites that provide backlinks.

Second — and this is important — the reason for the correlation between social signals and search rankings may be more correlative than causative. In other words, maintaining an active social media presence may simply build brand awareness and bring more relevant visitors to your website. The result of this would likely be an improvement in traditional SEO signals such as more backlinks and higher organic clickthrough rates.

The moral of the story? Good things happen when you’re active in social media.

Social media is simply too important to overlook. If social media signals aren’t already directly impacting your search engine rankings — and data suggests they could be — then it won’t be long before they do.

Want more tips to improve your search engine rankings? Click here to get the Ultimate SEO checklist

Opportunities Abound for Learning SEO Today

As the dog days of summer yield to the beginnings of fall, schools reopen and my mind turns to the classroom and thoughts on education and learning. I recently considered how the education and training of search marketers, particularly those of us who are SEO practitioners, has evolved.

As the dog days of summer yield to the beginnings of fall, schools reopen and my mind turns to the classroom and thoughts on education and learning. I recently considered how the education and training of search marketers, particularly those of us who are SEO practitioners, has evolved. In the early 1990s when the Web was young, there were no established “best practices,” no body of knowledge to consult, and many more search engines to target with each vying for the supremacy now won by Google. In this environment, early search marketers essentially made it up as they went. There was a lot of experimentation, and numerous strategies and tactics both good and bad were developed and employed. Some were later decried; others became the basis of today’s best practices. SEOs learned from each other. Online publications and conferences like SES and PubCon were the lifeline for practitioners wanting to learn from their peers.

There were no colleges and universities teaching search engine marketing. These came later as digital marketing became a legitimate discipline, and search became a vital component of any digital marketing plan. The learning opportunities for SEO also grew hand-in-hand with the demand for skilled practitioners. Today, there exists a dizzying array of educational opportunities for those wanting to enter or segue into search and other areas of digital marketing. As a seasoned practitioner, read old-timer, I am sometimes asked: “Do I need actual training to be a search marketer?” Most who ask this question assume that because I never took any specialized training that I will suggest a do-it-yourself approach. On the contrary, an organized, well-thought out curriculum would have offered me a nice jump-start.

If I make the point that training is necessary, then the follow-up question is the difficult one: “Where, how and what should I take to become a search marketer?” As a former educator, I am convinced that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for education or training. Today, with so many educational opportunities available, the would-be SEO can easily find just the right level of training that will be needed to gain entrance or advancement. It is a matter of shopping and matching current skills and knowledge with desired skills and knowledge.

SEO Calls for Lifetime Learning
With search, as with any technology-based discipline, the learning never ends. Even after two decades, I find myself still studying and learning. As a matter of course, I set aside roughly six to eight hours per week for continuous learning. Yes! There is that much to learn and absorb in search. Today, I still rely on do-it-yourself learning to enhance my personal storehouse of knowledge. I doubt that I will ever stop seeking new information and learning. One example should suffice as to why I believe this to be true. Search marketing is deeply tied to marketing and the study of human behavior. A few short years ago, no one shopped online or used a mobile device for search. Today, online shopping and mobile e-commerce are familiar watchwords. As we adapt and interact with new technologies, so too must the search marketer learn how to respond. This means that anyone coming into search must be prepared to be a lifelong learner and a keen observer of human behavior. Maybe like this seasoned SEO, you too watch the season change and find your thoughts turning to how you might enhance your knowledge of the fascinating discipline of search.

My 9 Insider Tips to Build Your Email List For Low or No Cost!

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, corporation or online publisher, the power of the lead is critical in growing your business … and your email list. Leads, also known as prospects, are typically the entry level point of the sales funnel. 

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, corporation or online publisher, the power of the lead is critical in growing your business … and your email list. Leads, also known as prospects, are typically the entry level point of the sales funnel.

A popular business model by many online publishers is to bring in leads at the “free” level (i.e. report, e-newsletter, webinar, white paper, etc.), add those names to their house list and typically over the course of 30 to 90 days (the bonding time) that lead will convert into a paying customer. This practice is known as lead generation, name collection or list-building efforts.

Today, I’m going to share with you some proven online marketing methods I’ve used and had great success with at some of the top publishers in America. And bonus … many of these tactics are low- or no-cost. Here’s my list, in no particular order:

Power eAcquisition Polls. In my last blog post, I wrote about using polls for lead generation. Incorporating a poll on your website or having a poll on another site is a great way to build your list. It’s important to spend time thinking about your poll question—something that is a hot topic, controversial and relevant to the locations where you’re placing your poll. You want to pull people in with your headline and make the poll entertaining. Your answers should be multiple choice and have an “other” field, which encourages participants to engage with your question. I’ve found this “other” field as a fantastic way to make the poll interactive. Many people are passionate about certain subject matters and won’t mind giving you their two cents. Then, to show appreciation for talking the poll, tell participants they are getting a bonus report and a free e-newsletter subscription (which they can opt out of at any time). And of course, make sure to mention—and link to—your privacy/anti spam policy. After you kick off your list-building efforts, make sure you start tracking them so you can quantify the time and resources spent. This involves working with your webmaster on setting up tracking URLs specific to each website you’re advertising on. It also means looking at Google Analytics for your website and corresponding landing pages to see traffic and referring page sources.

Teleseminars or Webinars. This is a great way to collect qualified names. Promote a free, relevant and value-oriented teleseminar or webinar to targeted prospects. You can promote it through several organic (free) tactics, such as LinkedIn Groups/Events, Facebook Events, Twitter, online press releases, affiliate marketing/joint ventures. Remember, this is for lead generation, not bonding. So your goal is to cast a wide net outside of your existing list, create visibility and get new names. Your value proposition should be actionable, relevant information that your target audience would find useful and worth giving their email address for. The trick is to promote the event in as many places as possible without incurring advertising costs; then your only costs may be the set up of the conference call (multiple lines, 800#) or webinar platform. And, in case you were wondering, I have been involved with teleseminars with non-toll-free numbers and response rates were not greatly impacted.

Co-registration. Co-Reg is another way to collect names, but involves a nominal fee. Co-Reg is when you place a small ad on another publisher’s site after some sort of transaction (albeit a sales or lead-gen offer). So, for instance, after someone signs up to the AOL Travel eNewsletter, a Thank You page comes up with a list of sponsors the reader may find interesting, as well—other free e-newsletter offers. The text ad is usually accompanied by a small graphic image representing the sponsor. The key here is to pick publishers and Co-Reg placements that are synergistic to your own publication and offer. Another important note is to make sure you follow up quickly to these names so they don’t forget who you are and go cold quite fast. I suggest a dedicated auto responder series for bonding and monetization. Co-Reg efforts can cost you around $1 to $3 per valid email address.

Frienemy Marketing. This includes JVs (joint ventures), affiliate marketing, guest editorials, editorial contributions and reciprocal ad swaps (for leads generation or revenue sharing). This tactic is extremely effective and cost-efficient. The key here is having some kind of leverage, then approaching publishers who may want your content or a cross-marketing opportunity to your current list (note: This only works if you have a list of decent size that another publisher will find attractive). In exchange for content or revenue share efforts, you and the other publisher agree to reciprocate either e-news ads or solo emails to each other’s lists, thereby sending a message to a targeted, relevant list for free. Well, if you agree on a rev share, it’s free as far as ad costs, but you are giving that publisher a split of your net revenues.

SONAR Marketing. I’ve written about this many times, but can’t stress it enough. Content is king and you can leverage it via what I call “SONAR.” It’s an organic (free) online strategy that works with the search engines. It’s a comprehensive method of repurposing, reusing, distributing and synchronizing the release of relevant, original content (albeit text, audio, video) to targeted online channels based on your audience. SONAR represents the following online distribution platforms:

S Syndicate partners, content syndication networks and user-generated content sites
O Online press releases
N Network (social) communities
A Article directories
R Relevant posts to blogs, forums and bulletin boards.

SONAR works hand-in-hand with your existing search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM) and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics.

Search Engine Marketing. It’s a shame more marketers don’t see the value of SEO or SEM. In order to drive as much organic traffic as possible to your website, you need to make sure your site is optimized for the correct keywords and your target audience. Once you optimize your site with title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords and relevant, keyword-dense content, you need to make sure you have revised your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to your home page (and it’s static on all your subpages), relevant banners and obvious links to e-comm webpages. You don’t want to miss a single opportunity to turn traffic into leads or sales.

Smart Media Buying. To complement your free online efforts, you may want to consider targeted, low-cost media buys (paid online advertising) in the form of text ads, banner ads, blog ads or list rentals (i.e. e-news sponsorships or solo emails). You’re paying for the placement in these locations, so you must make sure you have strong promotional copy and offers for the best results possible. High-traffic blogs are a high-performing, low-cost way to test new creatives. I like BlogAds.com network and you can buy placements a la carte and search by genre.

Pay Per Click (PPC). Many people try pay per click only to spend thousands of dollars with little results. Creating a successful PPC campaign is an art—one that I’ve had success with. You must make sure you have a strong text ad and landing page and that the ad is keyword dense. You must also have a compelling offer and make sure you do your keyword research. Picking the correct keywords that coincide with your actual ad and landing page is crucial. You don’t want to pick keywords that are too vague, too competitive or unpopular. You also need to be active with your campaign management, which includes bid amounts and daily budget. All these things—bid, budget, keywords, popularity and placement—will determine the success of the campaign. And most campaigns are trial and error and take anywhere from three to six weeks to optimize.

Viral Marketing. Make sure you have a “forward to friend” feature in your e-newsletter to encourage viral marketing. It’s also important to have a content syndication blurb in your newsletter; this also encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish and share your content, as long as they give you author attribution and a back-link to your site (which helps in SEM).

The following, in my personal experience, doesn’t work for quality list building …

Sweepstakes and Giveaways. You’ve seen the offers: Win a free TV, iPhone or similar in exchange for your email address. This gets the volume, but the leads are usually poor quality or unqualified (irrelevant). The numbers may look good on the front end, but when you dig deeper, your list is likely compromised with deliverability issues (high bounce rates), inactives and bad emails. This is because the leads are not targeted. The offer wasn’t targeted or synergistic with the company. With lead generation efforts, it should be quality over quantity.

Email appends. According to Wikipedia, email appending, also known as e-appending, is a marketing practice that involves taking known customer data (first name, last name and postal address) and matching it against a vendor’s database to obtain email addresses. The purpose is to grow one’s email subscriber list with the intent of sending customers information via email instead of through traditional direct “snail” mail. The problem with this, in my direct experience, is that on the front end your list initially grows, but these names are not typically qualified or interested. At one company where I worked, we tracked a group of email append cohorts over the course of a year to see what percent would “convert” to a paying customer. Nearly 75 percent of the names dropped off the file during that year and never even converted. Email appending is a controversial tactic, with critics claiming that sending email to people who never explicitly opted-in is against best practices. In my opinion, it’s a waste of time and money.

Does Channel Even Matter Anymore? Prove It With an ECHO!

I’ve heard it said, and I believe it, that the consumer has gone “omnichannel” on us. As customers have taken all the power in which brands they choose to interact with, we’ve awakened to find ourselves in a world where we—the brands and the marketers behind them—need to be everywhere the customer is. Digital created a real-time, on-demand environment where communities could easily tap and share knowledge. There is a collective intelligence there that, in tandem, empowers individual customers who use it. The result has affected all channels

I’ve heard it said, and I believe it, that the consumer has gone “omnichannel” on us. As customers have taken all the power in which brands they choose to interact with, we’ve awakened to find ourselves in a world where we—the brands and the marketers behind them—need to be everywhere the customer is. We need to be ready on demand, easily accessed, relevant but not intrusive, poised with an offer, with an ability to listen and interact accordingly, all on top of a product or service that demonstrates value to the customer.

The shift to customer centrism—the growth of customer power—probably began before the digital age, but certainly digital was the game-changer. Digital created a real-time, on-demand environment where communities could easily tap and share knowledge. There is a collective intelligence there that, in tandem, empowers individual customers who use it. The result has affected all channels.

It’s been said that the sole purpose of a business is to create a customer and grow the value of that customer over time. (Using this same reasoning, I doubt that the sole purpose of a charity is to create a donor, but it is to show a need to create a donor, and to make that donor relationship happen and grow.)

So in this brave new world, does channel even matter? Former Direct Marketing Association Chief Executive Officer Larry Kimmel (now with hawkeye) once told direct marketers we need to be “channel-agnostic.” That is, we need to be willing to understand and accept that our prospects and customers could be anywhere, with wants and needs, so we need to be able to recognize these individuals and communicate with them with relevance and permission—and deliver value to them when and where they are ready to engage.

(By the way, relevance—always interpreted from a consumer’s perspective—trumps permission. Discuss.)

I’ve always preferred the descriptor “channel fluent” to communicate this same message. Be channel agnostic, yes, but also have the best practices know-how to deploy any channel in an all-channel mix.

So BAM! Now we have all these channels, and all this channel data to deal with, and the customer wanting brand interaction and engagement in real time, her wants and needs met, and to move on until she’s ready to interact again.

How does a chief marketing officer navigate all this … with success? How should channels be deployed in concert with each other—around the customer? What unique attributes, if any, does any single channel bring to the brand engagement mix? What successful results have been achieved? How can we learn from each other?

I believe it’s time we take a page from the consumer to establish and share collective intelligence, this time among advertisers and marketers. Enter, the DMA 2013 International ECHO Awards Competition.

Does Your Marketing Have What it Takes?
Prove It With an ECHO Entry

Since its debut in 1929, the ECHOs have evolved with direct-response advertising—in all its channels and all of direct marketing’s manifestations. Today, the ECHOs are about the world’s best data-driven marketing campaigns—with data informing both strategy and creative, and producing results. Winning campaigns in 2012 came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The winners represent today’s direct marketing—and the winners truly showcase the best in channel-fluency performance.

For 2013, Winners will be selected in 15 business categories, including three new categories in consumer products, education, and professional services, as well as automotive; business and consumer services; communications and utilities; financial products and services; information technologies; insurance; nonprofit; pharmaceutical and healthcare; product manufacturing and distribution; publishing and entertainment; retail and direct sales; and travel and hospitality/transportation.

Channels represented among the winning campaigns will cover the media landscape: alternative media, catalog, direct mail, email, mobile, print, search engine marketing, social media, telemarketing, television/video/radio, Web advertising and Web development. Entries may represent single channel success—but increasingly entries reflect integrated marketing deployments, not necessarily “omnichannel,” but moving toward this customer expectation.

This year’s call for entries is now open, under the theme “The Ultimate Team Award” (campaign credits to Quinn Fable Advertising, New York, NY). Information on the ECHOs is posted at http://dma-echo.org/index.jsp.

The deadline is May 3, so let’s get started on building 2013’s version of marketing excellence collective intelligence—to share how and when channels matter. I’ll have more to share on the ECHOs in future posts here at “Marketing Sustainably,” but get started today on proving how direct marketing matters, and matters most, in creating and engaging customers everywhere.