How to Use Sentiment Analysis to Transform Your Digital Marketing Strategy

The goal of sentiment analysis is to increase customer acquisition, retention, and satisfaction. Moreover, it helps put the right brand messaging in front of the most interested eyes.

Sentiment analysis is a fascinating concept.

Brands use it to better understand customer reactions, behaviors, and opinions toward their products, services, reputation, and more. The goal of sentiment analysis is to increase customer acquisition, retention, and satisfaction. Moreover, it helps put the right brand messaging in front of the most interested eyes.

Before the digital age, gauging and understanding sentiment was an incredibly cumbersome process. It typically involved sending out surveys manually, going to the streets and asking people, or gathering focus groups in one place at one time. The big data-infused model of sentiment analysis we know today hit its stride on the political scene in 2010. Since then, it has morphed into a key tactic in marketing plans. These days, most of the grunt work is automated.

However, even with all of the advances in areas like martech, voice search, conversational commerce on social media, virtual assistants, and big data analytics, understanding how to actually use sentiment analysis to improve the bottom line is a complicated task.

Here are a few key approaches to help you get the value you need.

Know the Terms and Phrases That Indicate Intent

Most businesses today (hopefully) don’t even begin their digital branding and marketing efforts without a list of keywords relevant to their industry and a plan on how to target their audiences. You should have a good idea of the terms and variations that bring you traffic to your website, when used in conjunction with your brand and products. If you run an auto repair shop, people are likely finding you on the web through terms such as: body shop near me, auto repair, replace brake pads, etc.

Google Search Console gives you a great, fairly accurate idea of what’s bringing people to your website:

google search console
Credit: Author’s own

In terms of sentiment analysis, to gain actionable insight, you need to know how people are using these keywords in a way that indicates interest and engagement potential. Now, this is perhaps the biggest gray area in sentiment analysis, because not all positive sentiment equates to sales. Just because there are a lot of positive words around luxury cars doesn’t necessarily mean people are about to buy.

However, there are certain terms and phrases that signal people have entered your buyer’s journey. Let’s say you run an SEO agency and one of the terms you’re tracking for sentiment analysis is “Google update.” If you notice that a lot of people are searching for things like “what to do after a google algorithm update?” or “how to recover from a google penalty?” it’s a good indicator that they might need your services at the moment; you should target them accordingly.

Spot Patterns in Product Reviews

At its core, sentiment analysis is a game of pinpointing patterns and reading between the lines. Simply put, the more genuine and meaningful feedback you get on your product, the better insights you will gain into your customers.

Of course, gathering such high-quality feedback is easier planned than executed; especially for newer or smaller companies. Only 10% of customers will review or rate a business after a purchase, while half of consumers will leave a review only some of the time. However, the number of reviews jump significantly to 68% when a company asks the customer directly to leave one.

In order to find fruitful, up-to-date patterns, you need to make it a marketing process to consistently seek out new reviews. Then, you’ll want to start by searching for common adjectives. These should include words like:

  • great, simple, easy,
  • or awful, difficult, poor, etc.
trustpilot review
Credit: Capterra.com

In the above image, there are a good amount of reviews that include the word “great” for this product. Looking at the context around this term, we notice recurring patterns around components, like features and usability, and “not so” great opinions on customer service.

Finding recurring themes in customer sentiment will give you a better picture into the positive and negative aspects of your business or product. These can indicate the level of trust people have in your brand and how likely they are to give you a recommendation. When you are looking for patterns, try to come up with several adjectives that shed light on both sides of the spectrum.

  • What words are commonly used to describe their experience?
  • Is there an issue that forces multiple people to leave negative reviews?
  • What part delights them the most?
  • What’s preventing you from solving common problems?
  • Which products or solutions are users comparing yours to?

The answers to these important questions can help you understand user sentiment better and build a customer-focused marketing strategy.

Look to Social Media for Unabashed (Unfiltered) Opinions

Oftentimes, social media is one of the best places to get raw opinions, where people don’t hold back —  both in positive and negative lights. Knowing how people feel in an unfiltered environment can be a great way to tell which parts of your business are working very well —  and not so well.

A social listening platform is an important tool to keep in your portfolio for monitoring online mentions and gathering important datasets. Tools like Mention, Talkwalker, and Brand24, not only keep an ear on social mentions, but also turn these comments and hashtags into valuable customer analytics to help your marketing team understand your customers even better.

For instance, the online gaming developer Wargaming used brand monitoring techniques to analyze its customer’s desires and see which products performed best. The company tracked its users’ social media conversations to see what they were looking for, what parts of the games they liked or disliked, and any suggestions they offered for improvements.

Similarly, you can use a social listening tool to combine all your brand mentions into one database, giving your marketing team a bird’s eye view of audience sentiment on social platforms and identify areas to work on.

talkwalker
Credit: Talkwalker.com

While gathering this sentiment is good, the most important thing is knowing what to do with it. About 83% of customers who make a social mention of a brand —  specifically, a negative one —  expect a response within a day, and 18% want one immediately. Unfortunately, a majority of these mentions go unanswered, which can really impact a brand’s image. By utilizing an effective real-time social listening program, you can not only stay on top of social buzz, you can intervene and reply to any negative sentiment right away.

Some of the next steps will be fairly obvious, especially when you’re dealing with negative feedback. For instance, if your customer sentiment from social listening reveals that people are having trouble updating their software or there are issues with the product itself, this indicates that some redesign is necessary. However, don’t get too comfortable when you are getting positive reactions —  these tend to trick companies into thinking that no improvements are needed.

This kind of feedback can support a stronger marketing strategy. Let’s say your business sells pool supplies. While your customers may not be tweeting about your great chlorine chemicals, they are more likely talking about the fun pool floaties and games your website sells. Therefore, it would be helpful to highlight these fun accessories, as well, by listing them more prominently on your page and even including UGC to promote them.

poolfloatz
Credit: Instagram

Use Predictive Analysis to Spot Trends and Automate Actions

Now that you have all these valuable insights, you need to know how you can use them to shape your current and future business strategies.

Plugging your sentiment analysis into a predictive model is crucial for spotting trends, getting a feel for how opinions are progressing, and determining your next steps. Predictive analytics use machine learning and AI technology to not only gather, but analyze loads of consumer data and make accurate projections. These systems gauge historical behavioral data to help determine the best plan of action in the future.

In fact, customer segmentation and targeting (which is the logical next step after you analyze your audience’s sentiments) is one of the areas where applying AI and predictive analytics has the highest chance of working well for business.

applications of AI
Credit: Emerj.com

In order to develop an optimal predictive model for sentiment analysis, ask yourself:

  • What do you want to know?
  • What is the expected outcome? What do you think your customers are thinking?
  • What actions will you take to improve overall sentiment when you get the answers? How will you automate these actions?
  • What are the success metrics for these actions?

The Wrap

Chances are, your customers are already telling you what you need to make improvements to your business. By gathering as much data as possible on customer sentiment, your marketing team can understand just what needs to be done to provide a better experience, tweak campaigns accordingly, and acquire and retain more customers in the process.

Be sure you know what to data to collect, how to mine it, and how to apply it to keep raking in the revenue.

7 Privacy UX Tips From a Privacy and Marketing Expert

There are all kinds of marketing awards, but how about one for privacy UX? How do you make your customers comfortable with your privacy user experience? It’s not just agencies — but ad tech and martech companies, data providers, analytics firms and even management consulting firms that are in the data-driven mix.

Do we need to have an award for a better Privacy UX?

With the Association of National Advertisers’ acquisition of the Data & Marketing Association last year came new ownership, too, of the International ECHO Awards. As a lover of data-driven marketing (and an ECHO Governor), it’s very exciting to see brands recognize the strategic role of data in driving more relevant consumer (and business) engagement, and the myriad ad and data partners that brands rely on to make this engagement happen.

It’s not just agencies — but ad tech and martech companies, data providers, analytics firms and even management consulting firms that are in the data-driven mix. These are the facilitators of today’s consumer intelligence that forms the basis for smarter and more efficient brand communication. Some folks even eschew the term “advertising” as we move into a world where branded and even non-branded content underlie data-inspired storytelling that are hallmarks of today’s forward-thinking campaigns.

By the way, the call for entries for this year’s ECHO Awards (to be presented March 2020 as ANA moves what was the DMA conference from this Fall to next Spring) is happening soon — though the entry portal is now open. Let me know if you’d like an invite to the launch party in New York (Wednesday, May 22, in the afternoon).

An Important Part of Brand-Consumer Dialogue — Privacy Notices

One category that won’t be part of this year’s ECHOs is related to privacy-specific communication from brands.

You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Again and again — all over our smartphone and laptops … communications asking for our consent for cookies, for newsletters, for device recognition, for terms and conditions — all in an effort to help enable data collection to serve the brand-consumer value exchange and subsequent dialogue.

Some of this is mandated from Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, with halo impact in other nations and markets. Others are anticipating such notice requirements from California’s forthcoming privacy and advertising law. Still others are simply adopting heightened transparency (and choice) as part of self-regulatory and best practices regimes, where no laws may yet exist.

All of this devoted to one objective: getting a consumer (or business individual) to say “yes” to data collection about them, their devices and digital behaviors, in an effort to serve them better.

This week, during the International Association of Privacy Professionals’ Global Privacy Summit 2019 in Washington, DC, one expert — Darren Guarnaccia, Chief Product Officer, Crownpeak — offered some research insights from some 17 million preference experiences that Crownpeak has helped to facilitate on behalf of its brands. These experiences are focused on Europe in light of GDPR, but the findings offer good counsel to any brand that is thinking through its privacy UX.

Some Privacy Communications Concepts to Test

Here are just a few of the tips Guarnaccia reported:

  • Privacy Notices are Not Just a Matter of Compliance: Yes, they may be legally required in some jurisdictions – but more vitally, they should be treated with the same discipline and care of any other branded communication. Because the ultimate goal is to earn trust — going beyond compliance and permission. As a result, the whens, wheres and hows of such notices are vital to test and perfect.
  • Avoiding Legal Penalty Is Table Stakes — We Ought to Design Such Notices for Higher Purpose: To extend the previous point on consumer trust, there’s a higher price to pay if a privacy notice simply meets a legal expectation, and nothing more. Many consumers have gone “stealth” — using ad blockers and going incognito on browsers. We must remind, convince or persuade consumers of the value a brand seeks to offer in exchange for permissions and consents for data collection, analysis and application. Are we extending such notice in plain language at the right time?
  • Brand’ the Privacy Communication: This may seem obvious — but it’s often overlooked. Does the privacy notice look like it’s coming from the brand — or from somewhere else (such as a browser or ad tech partner)? In gaining consent, it’s always superior for the notice to be owned, cared and looked after by the brand itself — even if a third-party (such as an ad tech provider) is facilitating the notice. Does the creative of the notice match the colors, fonts and point sizes of the brand content behind it? By extending brand requirements to such communication, a brand is taking “ownership” of the data collection, consent and trust-building directly — as it should, in the eyes of the user.
  • Earn Before You Ask: Oftentimes, the consumer is presented with a cookie or related privacy notice upon entering a brand’s digital property — first page, upon entry. Test giving consumers a more anonymized experience for the few page visits, and then present a notice — “Are You Enjoying What You’re Seeing?” where a data collection permission is then sought. This allows the consumer to indeed value what’s on offer in information on the site.
  • Give Consumers Both an ‘Accept’ and a ‘Decline’ Choice or Button: Many sites offer only an “accept” button, leaving the consumer with an impression that they can “take it or leave it,” with no sense of real control. Test offering both an accept or decline offer — just seeing the word “decline” reminds consumers they are in control — and the actual decision to “decline” becomes more apparent for those consumers who indeed wish to be stealth.
  • Test Progressive Consent: Not every Website (or app) may need immediate access to user data for all purposes of consumer engagement. For data minimization purposes, perhaps ask visitors permission to collect only basic information (say, for contact, site optimization or customer recognition purposes) first. Then, only when necessary for utility, ask permissions for location data or other data categories, alongside the rationale for such collection and consent, as those needs arise. Asking for everything, upfront, all at once, can be a real turnoff — especially if a user is “new” to a brand. Consumers love — and frankly, need to know — the context for the permissions they give (or deny).
  • Test Privacy Notices by Market: Did you know users in the United Kingdom, for example, are 1.4 times more likely to give consent than those in France and Germany? How notices are worded and rationales explained — how transparency is conveyed — can have a big impact between markets, so it’s best to test notices by individual market (and language) to optimize consent rates. In short, national cultures and language nuance matter, too, in privacy communication.

Conclusion

In summary, there’s more payback than just permission. Consent rates in Europe can go as high as 60 to 70 percent — and hurtling over cookie walls at 80 to 90 percent — when privacy communications are optimized. Crownpeak offered far more tips (and real-market examples) in its session — about search engine optimization, personalization, analytics disclosures and other related topics. But there’s also lifetime value, and indeed consumer trust in the balance. We have an entirely new area for many marketers to test, working with their counsel and technology colleagues.

Who knows? Maybe the best such privacy-focused campaigns could still win a 2020 ECHO — based on compelling strategy, creative and results toward an earn-their-trust purpose. Is there a courageous brand ready to show us how? After all, this is one area where we all benefit from ways to raise consumer trust in advertising by sharing successful case studies. We shall see.

Financial Services Companies Focus on Delivering a Better Customer Experience

As I conduct more interviews with IT professionals, it’s clear financial services companies (banks, brokers and insurance) are investing a lot of money and resources into leveraging data to provide a better customer experience.

As I conduct more interviews with IT professionals, it’s clear financial services companies (banks, brokers and insurance) are investing a lot of money and resources into leveraging data to provide a better customer experience.

Better late than never. Banks have long had a plethora of information about clients; whereby, they should have been able to suggest products and anticipate needs based on life events (college, first job, marriage, home, children, job change, retirement, etc.). Unfortunately, the data was in silos and they were not taking a holistic view of their customers.

Slowly but surely, this is changing as:

  • Rocket Mortgage enables customers to get approval for a mortgage or an equity line of credit in minutes.
  • Square enables sellers to process credit card transactions via smartphones or tablets.
  • Mint provides free, web-based financial management software.
  • Robinhood provides zero-fee stock trading.
  • Personal Capital provides online financial advice, personal wealth management and algorithmic trading, for much less than a traditional broker.

These companies are providing a seamless user experience (UX) across a multi-platform and multi-device landscape. They’re providing real-time information of value to educate customers and prospects. In a recent study, Oracle found that 80% of consumers are accessing their financial institution digitally.

Several banks have automated their loan processing so they are able to get more accurate and complete information upfront and provide loan approval the same day, rather than in 30 or 45 days. The process is better for the financial institution, as well as the customer.

But Are Traditional Financial Institutions Too Late?

After having moved half of my investment portfolio to the algorithmic trading arm of Edward Jones, I decided to move it all to Personal Capital, the algorithmic trading arm of Pershing.

As with most things, I believe we will see a range of activity and acceptance based on the people I interview in the big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) space.

I’m still waiting for the first FinTech, using AI/ML, to guarantee the security of my personally identifiable information (PII) and my money. The first FinTech to do this will quickly become a market leader for more conservative consumers and investors.

We will continue to have FinTechs using AI/ML to make customers’ lives simpler, easier, saving them money and giving them incentives to share their information. Consumers who are less concerned with the security of PII and more concerned with “deals” and CX will be attracted to these FinTechs.

It will be fun to watch it shake out over the next couple of decades. I believe companies that remove friction, eliminate pain, make customers’ lives simpler and easier, and do so securely will ultimately win share of wallet.

What do you think?

The Consumer’s Journey in Making Big-Ticket Purchases

When we look at consumer behavior and what drives the purchase decision, it’s helpful to look specifically at smaller price points vs. big-ticket items. There are definite differences in the path-to-purchase for big-ticket items (i.e., items costing $500 or more).

[Today, Sue is hosting Ronda Slaven, a VP Research Insights and Thought Leadership at Synchrony Financial, as a guest blogger for The Consumer Connection.]

When we look at consumer behavior and what drives the purchase decision, it’s helpful to look specifically at smaller price points vs. big-ticket items. There are definitive differences in the path-to-purchase for big-ticket items (i.e., items costing $500 or more).

When I think about how I purchase shoes, for example, I go through a very different process than when I purchase a mattress. For shoes, I don’t spend a lot of time researching, and I must admit: Some shoe purchases have been impulse buys. But I can’t say the same for a mattress or flat screen TV.

Path to PurchaseIn the 2016 Synchrony Financial Major Purchase Study, we asked consumers specific questions about what they go through when they purchase items costing more than $500.

The results show that consumers spend a certain amount of time researching, both in-store and online. Additionally, some consult friends and check online reviews, and about one third of consumers explore financing for the purchase. But, guess where the purchase is ultimately made? Eighty-two percent of respondents said they ultimately purchase the big-ticket item in-store. Surprised? Let’s explore this further, and add some more numbers to the picture.

For 85 percent of consumers, the path-to-purchase for big-ticket items starts with online research. The vast majority of people used the internet to explore prices and purchase options, up from 80 percent only a year ago. Let’s dig a little deeper:

  • Ninety percent of consumers said they compare prices and promotions to ensure they get the best prices.
  • Eighty-two percent said they wait to make purchases until they get the best deal.

So, comparison shopping is a major part of the big-ticket purchase process.

Let’s go to the next step: in-store research. Even though in-store research takes more time and planning than online research, our study shows that about 70 percent of consumers research the items in physical stores. That’s a pretty healthy percentage.

And how much impact do friends and online reviews have on the purchase? Well, more than half said they consult with friends, and 38 percent check online reviews.

Now, after all this research on the actual purchase, how about financing it? About one third of consumers said they research financing options. It’s a good idea for brands to introduce financing as part of the purchase process, as 47 percent said they might not have made a purchase, or would have shopped with a competitor, if financing was not available. Additionally, 71 percent of cardholders said they prefer retailers that offer promotional options.

And to reiterate, about four in five people purchase the item in a store. For costlier purchases, people like to touch it, feel it, ask questions and feel confident that they know what they’re getting. After all, it’s more complicated to return a washing machine purchased online than it is a pair of shoes.

So, what is the implication for brands selling big-ticket items? Consumers value more than just price when shopping for a high-cost item. The value equation includes price comparison, consumer reviews and cost of shipping/delivery/installation, as well as financing options. Retailers who ensure that their website and communications strategy include these elements come out as winners. And as the digital channel continues to play a prominent role in the shopping journey, brands should consider strategies that increase their online presence, such as search engine marketing and website optimization.

Customers are looking for a seamless shopping experience. It’s important that brands demonstrate value early in the sales process, serve up detailed information through online channels and provide great customer service for that ultimate in-store purchase.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents.

The Transformation of Payments: A Flashpoint of Innovation

For any brand or company, the payment experience must be considered part of the sale. Think about the last time you went to a store and left because the line to pay was too long. Or the last time you went online to pay for something and the checkout process made you so uncomfortable that you just gave up. This shows how important the payment experience is to a brand.

Online paymentFor any brand or company, the payment experience must be considered part of the sale. Think about the last time you went to a store and left because the line to pay was too long. Or the last time you went online to pay for something and the checkout process made you so uncomfortable that you just gave up. This shows how important the payment experience is to a brand.

Technology in the payments field has gone through a huge transformation in the last three years. Let’s look at how this has transformed the lives of consumers.

1. Point-of-Sale (POS) Technology

POS technologies available to brands have exploded. Let’s take Square as an example. How does a consumer pay for a magician for their child’s birthday party without pulling out cash or writing a check? Square is the answer. This technology works with iOS and Android devices to accept payments anywhere by using an attachment for the mobile phone.

Other new POS devices include Poynt and Clover. These devices are able to accept EMV payments, gather data on the customer and provide personalized offers. The technology works outside the hardware, so it can be implemented by companies of all sizes — from Amazing-the-Magician to Zoe’s Fashion Bracelets.

2. Mobile Payments

Another key element of new payment technology is mobile payments. This includes mobile wallets available, like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. According to a National Retail Federation (NRF) study conducted by Forrester® Research (The State of Retail Payments, 2016), 68 percent of retailers said they planned to implement at least one digital payment feature in the coming year.

But with new payment methods, we’re really looking for consumer adoption. According to a Synchrony Financial 2016 Digital Study, 81 percent of consumers surveyed were aware of mobile wallets, but only 9 percent said they plan to use the technology regularly.

Why isn’t mobile wallet usage taking off? After trying the mobile wallet one time, consumers indicated they just don’t perceive the need, and are not sure if it is safe and secure. Most are satisfied with the payment methods they currently use. But, the tide is turning toward increased mobile wallet usage.

According to the same Forrester study, 63 percent of retailers believe consumers will use mobile payments when more features become available. This includes coupons, offers and loyalty programs tied to the wallet. As a result of these increased value propositions, and the increased number of retailers who adopt the technology, the use of mobile wallets is likely to grow in the future.

3. Mobile App

Enabling payments right in the mobile app is an extremely convenient new innovation. A perfect example of this is Uber: When taking an Uber to the airport, the payment experience is almost non-existent. You just get out of the car and go catch your plane. Why is this significant? Think about other mobile apps that could use this seamless integration. Checking out makeup at your favorite cosmetics retailer? Get the eye shadow instantly.

Synchrony Financial has implemented this payment method with an app plug-in called SyPI. Once the customer is in the retailer’s mobile app, the entire purchase experience is executed directly within the app. No digging into your wallet for your credit card each time you want to buy something — no wondering if you have enough credit line for that new sweater. This technology is gaining traction with many brands who want to create a seamless purchase experience.

4. Person-to-Person (P-to-P) Mobile Payments

P-to-P mobile payments have been taking off in recent years. Your local babysitters don’t have the Square attachment to their smartphones? You can still pay them by using other mobile apps. Examples of these are Venmo, Popmoney and Square Cash. These apps allow the transfer of money to an individual from a person’s credit card or bank account.

Many banks have developed their own P-to-P technology to keep customers connected and engaged. As Millennials reduce their time spent interacting with banking institutions, innovative payment technologies are created to keep them engaged and loyal to the bank.

The payments field has gone through an explosion in technology. And with this advent of new technology are new start-ups that create even faster and more seamless experiences. With the rapid pace of change, the end of 2017 may look very different from today in the payment experience for both consumers and brands. Is your brand ready to take advantage of these new ways to grow your business and keep your customer engaged?

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents.

Experience vs. Expedience in Digital Marketing

As a marketer in a time-starved world, you are walking a fine line when it comes to gaining your audience’s attention and keeping their attention. These are two very different things. One requires an experience with personality. The other requires a streamlined presentation.

Experience MeterAs a marketer in a time-starved world, you are walking a fine line when it comes to gaining your audience’s attention and keeping their attention. These are two very different things. One requires an experience with personality. The other requires a streamlined presentation.

In order to gain their attention, you need to establish personality on some level. You need to create a brand that gives you the space to establish the all-important emotional connection. Without that connection, you have little chance of standing out from your competition and rising above commodity provider status.

At the same time, a significant portion of your audience at any given moment isn’t really interested in your story. They just want the facts. As in, “Answer my questions so I can be on my way.” No fluff, no filler, no backstory.

Brand and Content Must Be Married

Together, these two truths mean that in order to create a great online presence, you need to find a way to bake your personality into the experience itself. So rather than having a really clever animation occupying center stage on your home page (and annoying those folks who really just want to get where they’re going), your personality needs to shine through in how you present not just your story/brand, but also in how you present “just the facts.”

New Content Formats

This will have an impact on the content you create. The spreadsheet that was OK a decade ago — and may still be just what the doctor ordered, depending on your audience — is, in many cases, better presented as an infographic now. The thousand-word treatise on how a client can tell whether they’ll benefit from your expertise will be more effective as a short video. (With an illustrated, annotated version of the treatise available for those who prefer to consume your content that way.)

So you don’t just need great content now. You need to produce that content in ways that take more creativity, effort, and, yes, budget, than a couple of paragraphs of text would.

As if that’s not challenge enough, we marketers also need to keep in mind the venerable ideas of Steve Krug. The title of his book says it all: Don’t Make Me Think. It is about web usability most directly, but applies to digital marketing much more broadly. It is well worth the read.

Exceed Expectations, Don’t Explode Them

His message is that your creativity can’t challenge your audience’s expectations to the point of confusion — even momentary confusion. People expect a contact link on the right-hand side of your main menu or your header. Is there any compelling reason to move it to the lower left? Or to call it “reach out” instead of Contact? Maybe, but you’d better be sure that your audience agrees with you.

Have you been wrestling with this balance? I would love to hear from you if you’d be willing to share your story, even anonymously, and would be thrilled to share the experiences of any of you who have succeeded in striking a balance that works for your marketing and your organization.

See the Customer Inside the Idiot With Compassion

“A person is smart. People are dumb.” That’s been my best friend’s favorite quote since we were 16. But it has a flaw: Compassion.

“A person is smart. People are dumb.”
—Agent K, Men in Black

That’s been my best friend’s favorite quote since we were 16 years old. But it has a flaw.

It’s not numbers that make people stupid. It’s your distance from them and your angle of view that make them appear so.

Maybe it’s the customer who asks how many are in a dozen. Or the website visitor who says your pictures are too small, even though it just takes a click to enlarge them. Or the member who complains about your password protocol because they can’t figure out to write it down. (Full disclosure: I’ve been that idiot.)

That’s hardly an exhaustive list of the ways the people you’re marketing to can look like idiots. I don’t have any idea of the myriad of specific ways your customers frustrate you, but I’m betting you have a list.

The job of marketing is to convince people, many people, people you’ll probably never meet, to do the thing you have painstakingly tried to make them want to do. You may have spent years of your life trying to make it as simple as possible for them to do the thing. You’ve probably bent over backwards to make sure they have everything they need to do it. And yet, sometimes we’re all just Happy Gilmore on the putting green trying to get the ball to go into the hole that’s its home.

Happy Gilmore, not showing compassionWhen they don’t do the thing, customers can all look like idiots.

Compassion in Business

This came to mind when I was at Dreamforce last week. A big theme of the show was compassion. Now sure, a lot of that was discussion about charitable works and Salesforce’s gifts to nonprofits (which are to be lauded), But there was a bigger point that Mark Benioff made: Businesses and people don’t succeed by doing what they need, they succeed when they start doing what others need.

That sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense when you think about the hallmarks of great products and services: They solve your peoples’ problems.

Compassion is the key to doing that. If you can’t sympathize with the people you’re marketing to, you can’t solve their problems — be it the problems your products are meant to solve, problems with your products, or problems with the path to purchasing your products.

Compassion is also the key to finding a sense of purpose in your marketing. It’s hard to feel fulfilled herding idiots. When you can look at your customers with compassion, empathizing with their problems and helping them in a worthwhile way, that’s what’s fulfilling and sustaining in business.

So by being compassionate to your prospects and customers, you’re also being compassionate to yourself.

Plus, you’ll make more money that way.

Google Finally Shuts the Door on Doorway Pages

Google seldom gives search engine marketers advance warning of algorithmic changes; however, in a rare move recently Google announced plans to penalize “doorway pages” through a ranking algorithmic adjustment. At the same time, Google clarified its quality guidelines on what constitutes a “doorway page.” Designed to increase a site’s search footprint for specific keywords, “doorway pages” are an old and discredited search marketing tactic. Google in its guidelines for Web development has routinely advised marketers to avoid using doorway page campaigns, because they yield a poor user experience. The question this recent move begs then is: Why is Google going after “doorway pages” now?

Google seldom gives search engine marketers advance warning of algorithmic changes; however, in a rare move recently Google announced plans to penalize “doorway pages” through a ranking algorithmic adjustment. At the same time Google, clarified its quality guidelines on what constitutes a “doorway page.” Designed to increase a site’s search footprint for specific keywords, “doorway pages” are an old and discredited search marketing tactic. Google in its guidelines for Web development has routinely advised marketers to avoid using doorway page campaigns, because they yield a poor user experience. The question this recent move begs then is: Why is Google going after “doorway pages” now?

Although it is Google’s long-standing profile that “doorway pages” are bad practice, and Google has had the technology to detect them for many years, the decision to go after them now is that, in my opinion, they have recently proliferated in morphed forms, particularly for local results. Google’s decision is also consistent with its attack on “thin content” sites. “Doorway pages” were the original thin content pages. In their early format, “doorway pages” were often machine-generated, with keywords plugged into very generic content. As search marketing has evolved, so, too, have “doorway pages,” and the new morphed forms provide almost as bad a user experience as the original machine-generated pages.

With the shift from desktop to mobile, users want crisper, more keenly targeted local results and do not want to be directed to a low-quality doorway page or a bridge page that forces them to make yet another click. It is particularly frustrating to the growing audience of mobile searchers to be guided by Google’s results to “doorway pages,” that provide little more information than Google’s search page. “Doorway pages” often create a carousel effect, where the user performs a search and is continuously lead to the same page, in spite of changing the query. These pages maximize the site owner’s search footprint as well as the user’s frustration. Because “doorway page” programs are often used to funnel localized traffic, they sit at the intersection of local and mobile search. This is a highly competitive space for Google.

Google has clearly indicated the type of pages it classifies as “doorway pages.” According to Google, these pages are created solely to derive traffic for specific queries. They can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. They are sometimes bridge pages that lead users to intermediate pages instead of to their final destination. They often have multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page. These pages often look like search results pages instead of content pages, and they often function as geographic traffic funnels.

If you are not sure whether your search tactics employ “doorway pages,” now is the time to take a closer look at whether your pages fit the profile that Google indicated in its announcement. If you are not sure, my advice is quite simple—don’t fool yourself. You probably need to rethink your strategy quickly. Your very first step should be to block Googlebot from those pages and begin redirecting them to quality pages.

For some businesses and site owners whose search tactics have relied on large “doorway page” campaigns to drive traffic and manipulate the search results, this change could have a seismic impact. If your competitors have been using “doorway pages” and you have not, the change could boost your ranking performance. If this change leads to an improvement in search engine results quality, it will be a clear win for users.