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Let’s face it. Enterprise paid search advertising is a big mess of big data. A lot of the manual techniques that can be used to optimize small to medium-sized paid search programs are simply not scalable when you’re dealing with thousands upon thousands of individual keywords and ad groups.

This is especially true when it comes to the famous “long tail” of search.

Unlike head and torso terms, which have a relatively high amount of search volume and therefore result in a relatively high amount of clicks and conversion data, many long-tail terms sit there gathering dust. They only result in clicks every once in a while, which makes them notoriously difficult to evaluate from a conversion and ROI standpoint. Moreover, there are so many of them that attempting to evaluate on a one-by-one basis is a fool’s errand.

But with a bit of craftiness – and a penchant for slicing and dicing big data – it is possible to identify and eliminate unproductive long-tail keywords en masse.

I can’t give away the exact recipe that we use to identify long-tail clunkers, because that would just be wrong. However, what I can do is provide some key reporting dimensions, metrics, and cadences that you can use to build out your own scalable approach to managing the long-tail:

  1. Establish a minimum threshold of clicks/spend without a conversion – we have a unique recipe for determining this at HSN but you can experiment with different thresholds until you determine the right threshold for your business/client. In addition to that threshold, decide upon a time frame in which you will query conversion data to determine non-converters (e.g. no conversion after x clicks/spend over a six-month period)
  2. Compare different attribution models – A good place to start is by comparing last-click conversion data vs. first-click conversion data. The goal here is to ensure that the clunkers you identify are true clunkers no matter how you look at it (Note: If you don’t know what the difference between first-click and last-click attribution is or how to gather that data, find out in a hurry because your business is missing a huge piece of marketing perspective)
  3. Query your keyword data on a regular, ongoing basis to identify new clunkers – Quarterly, monthly, maybe even weekly. Whatever floats your boat. The key is to continually mine for keywords that are simply not worth keeping in your portfolio
  4. Develop a strategy for reallocating the spend that you “save” by pausing unproductive keywords. This is key because the ultimate idea isn’t to simply remove unproductive keywords. The real goal is to take those savings and reallocate them into productive areas of the program so that you can maximize your paid search budget (or your overall marketing budget across all channels)

 

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With every passing year, the topic of “social media influencers” gains momentum. Back in the day – as in back before the phrase “social media” even existed – reaching out and subsequently building a network of relationships with key influencers like bloggers, fan site owners, and forum administrators was almost exclusively the domain of niche players. Few enterprise brands devoted time to this highly manual and definitively non-broadcast marketing avenue, and the few enterprise marketers that recognized its value simply didn’t have the budget allocation or internal resources necessary to make any serious inroads.

Fast forward to 2012 and it’s hard to go a single day without seeing at least one article from a mainstream digital marketing publication extolling influencer outreach and engagement. Moreover, it seems like every agency is rolling out a link building and/or social media engagement service of one sort or another.

I field calls and emails from literally dozens of these outfits but legitimately converse only a small subset and only feel comfortable vouching for a very select few.

And the reason that I’m so selective is because I know from my own direct experience on the agency side that very few shops are willing to take social influencer engagement seriously enough to consider those influencers customers. And what do I mean by that exactly?

In a nutshell, I mean that most providers won’t take the steps necessary to build out a robust database of the influencers they reach out to so that they can build upon those initial outreach attempts and build truly profound and long-lasting relationships.

Mind you, a lot of providers out there think they have this covered with Excel spreadsheets that chronicles outreach targets. That might work for smaller brands but it just won’t cut it for enterprising marketers. What’s needed is a searchable, flexible, interactive, and preferably cloud-based technology platform that makes it easy to update key pieces of information like the name, contact info, social profiles, and contact history. Think along the lines of a CRM platform like Saleforce.com, but exclusively for managing social and SEO-related outreach contacts as opposed to traditional customers.

This is an important distinction in my opinion, and one that separates the truly enterprise-caliber agencies from the pretenders. So if you’re a digital marketer looking to truly scale your social media and SEO outreach and engagement efforts make sure that you make outreach management technology investment a prerequisite. Leveraging data in this manner will ultimately make a significant impact on the long-term marketing equity you derive from this facet of your digital marketing plan.

 

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I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to measuring the return on marketing investment. Everything from basing it on “gut feeling” (yes, I’ve literally had executives tell me that they’re rather do that as opposed to relying on hard metrics even though the metrics were readily obtainable with a bit of effort and investment) to extremely rigorous financial modeling that breaks out return on investment down to the financial P&L level. Most enterprise-caliber brands understand the importance of identifying and crystallizing ROI metrics for their various marketing programs and channels, but the truly progressive ones are still pushing the envelope even further and working on ways to fold even more information – and value – into those calculations.

Before I get into some ideas on how to emulate these industry leaders, let me take a moment to review some of the more common approaches to measuring digital marketing ROI:

  • One of the most basic ways to measure ROI is in terms of brand impressions. This can consist of anything from a display ad impression to an impression that a press release gets when it’s picked up by a journalistic publication. This method of ROI is often used by companies that do not sell any product or service directly to the consumer. A good example would be a consumer packaged goods company like Coca-Cola.
  • Another basic way to measure ROI is in terms of unique visitors and pageviews to a website or application. This is commonly used by media publications like newspapers, magazines, and television networks who essentially sell those unique visits and pageviews to advertisers.
  • Another method of calculating ROI is commonly referred to as cost-per-lead or CPL. This is commonly used by companies that use digital marketing channels to secure sales leads that they then try to convert to customers via in-person or via the phone. Insurance companies and car dealerships are good examples of the types of companies that use this type of ROI metric.
  • From there, you get into actual sales and revenue calculations, which are often referred to as ROAS or efficiency. This methodology is typically used by e-commerce companies that sell product directly via the internet and it’s essentially the revenue or profit generated by an online sale divided by the cost of the marketing spend that was used to generate that sale.
  • Some companies also try to place a dollar value on “soft” conversions like email subscribers, Facebook followers, etc. but these approaches to ROI often take a back seat to harder forms of ROI calculation, especially for companies that generate leads or direct sales online.

And that about covers the universe of ROI metrics and calculation, right?

Wrong.

There are actually several other key metrics that should factor into virtually every company’s ROI calculation but that few companies actually take the time to fold into the mix. Here are two of those factors that I find particularly insightful:

1) New Customers – The value of a new customer is often overlooked and this is a big mistake, especially for older well-established brands that have a large customer file but struggle to acquire new customers or are trying to break into new verticals or categories. Moreover, understanding the rate at which different marketing channels attract new customers is crucial since if all other things are equal the channel that drives a higher percentage of new customers (as opposed to re-acquiring existing or lapsed customers) should get the larger share of marketing spend allocation.

2) Customer Lifetime Value (also known as CLV or LTV) – This is yet another metric that is often overlooked by marketers big and small. It refers to the average amount of revenue a newly acquired customer will generate over their customer lifetime (Note: typically “lifetime” refers 12 months of purchasing activity and not an actual lifetime). Calculating this value and then adding it to your ROI calculation allows you to be more aggressive in terms of competing for conversions since it’s essentially inflating the amount of revenue you’re generating per conversion.

Interestingly, the reason that many enterprise companies don’t use advanced ROI factors like new customer data or CLV/LTV is not because they’re not aware of their existence. Instead, it’s because it takes a lot of work (and money) to coordinate data and workflow between the marketing, finance, CRM, and RNA departments in order to plug the data in accurately. This is also often the reason why companies refuse to utilize real financial data like net revenue, gross margin, or even P&L to optimize digital channels like paid search.

I can tell you from personal experience that plugging in the data, procuring the technology and getting different stakeholders to play nice is not an easy feat. But for the brave marketing leaders that are willing to traverse this gauntlet the long-term payoff in terms of competitive differentiation and business intelligence can be massive.

 

 

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Something that has always amazed me over the past half-decade or so is the obvious disparity between the makeup of marketing thought leadership on social networks and blogs versus the makeup of marketing executive leadership at enterprise brands. If I had to guess, I’ve probably interacted closely with hundreds of enterprise brands, and more often than not, the digital marketing leadership teams within those organizations – from the manager level all the way up to the CMO level – are rarely folks that also have a well-established voice on mainstream online community niches like Twitter or the blogosphere.

In other words, many of the folks that actually run the marketing programs at large organizations have little or no professional or personal footprint within those very channels they manage. They haven’t built a following or community via social networks. They’ve never built traffic or conversion funnels for their own personal websites via search, email, affiliates, etc. Heck, for that matter, they’ve never built a website (e.g. coded or designed). And they definitely haven’t implemented analytics tracking or built custom analytics reporting dashboards. Lastly, many of them learned about marketing from the standpoint of a much more traditional TV, radio, print, and PR communications paradigm.

And that makes for a curious disparity indeed.

Granted, one of alternative reasons for the lack of online thought leaders occupying marketing leadership roles at large organization is that many of those great marketing minds have found that it’s more lucrative – and enjoyable – to go the entrepreneurial route. Another reason is that many of the brightest minds in the online marketing space prefer the relative freedom and flexibility that employment at a start-up or small business affords. Still, I can’t help but think that the time is ripe for more of our online thought leaders to begin taking the marketing reins within some of the larger organizations in the marketplace.

I’ve decided to personally help stimulate this shift by going out of my way to connect known enterprise marketing recruiters with savvy marketers in my personal social network. I’m also considering the idea of creating a formal coaching or training program to help up-and-coming digital marketers in our niche online community land leadership roles within these larger organizations.

And I encourage any of you reading this that are already entrenched in leadership positions to do the same, because the sooner that more of our ilk occupy those executive positions at large organizations, the sooner that the marketing industry as a whole will shift from a more traditional mindset to a more progressive one, which sounds like a whole lot of fun to me.

P.S. If you’re a marketing executive that’s on the outskirts of the online marketing niche community – or completely on the outside looking in – I highly suggest that you start dipping more toes into these waters. Your long-term career prospects might depend on it.

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I had an interesting experience at the office today. My SEO lead was working with my paid search lead to pull together some paid search keyword conversion data that we plan on leveraging to prioritize SEO efforts. One of the keywords that showed up on this particular report was “epilator.” I’d never heard of this word before today and didn’t even know it was part of our keyword portfolio (don’t judge unless you manage a really really big keyword list and know every single word by heart) but that’s not really the remarkable part.

What’s remarkable is that despite not actually selling any epilators we actually convert at a fairly high clip when we serve paid search ads for this keyword. We do sell something called a NoNo that’s similar to an epilator but we don’t have any actual epilators and we certainly don’t have a broad selection of brands and models of epilators.

This is a highly counter-intuitive set of empirical data. It goes against the grain of mainstream, “common sense” paid search marketing best practices that dictate strong assortment – or any assortment for that matter – as a prerequisite to favorable conversion. And yet there it is, staring at me, mockingly laughing at my intuition.

I love these moments, because they often signal an opportunity for true innovation and competitive differentiation.

Mind you, this doesn’t signal a paradigm shift in the way that we manage our paid search keyword portfolio. It doesn’t mean that we’re suddenly going to drop everything and start focusing on ranking organically for the term “epilator.” It just means that we’ve found a potential pattern in the big data logjam that is modern-day digital marketing that goes against traditional best practices and opens the door to measurably incremental ROI.

And that’s what enterprise digital marketing strategy is all about in my book

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I never cease to be amazed by search marketers that:

a) complain about the Powers That Be (e.g. Google, etc.)

b) chase algorithms

c) operate in utter and complete search vacuum (or worse yet an “SEO only” or “paid search only” vacuum)

The first one freaks me out because there are so many other moral/ethical abominations worth addressing and so many better ways to spend your professional time. The second one freaks me out because all of the truly skillful and successful search marketers that I’ve ever worked with are focused on building a business that’s immune to the ups and downs of algorithms and quality scores. The third one freaks me out, well, because so many people I’ve encountered in our industry – from junior analysts to well-known bloggers and conference speakers – seem to live in a well-insulated SEO or paid search bubble.

But I digress.

What I really want to talk about is some of the ways that you can move beyond the confines of traditional search marketing and extend yourself and your team into the realm of true business optimization via the tried and true avenue we refer to as search.

For starters, and to be fair this is far from a novel insight, make sure that you’re thinking all the way through from referred traffic to conversion rate and even on through to revenue and financial analysis. Also, make sure that you’re working with colleagues on an intelligent way to attribute traffic and conversion to and from other marketing channels that are parallel to search, because sometimes, understanding how search works in unison with parallel channels like social media and display retargeting can make the difference between positive and negative ROI in hyper-competitive market segments like e-commerce.

And don’t stop there, because there’s even more you can do to shape your business (or client’s business) and disrupt your competitive landscape.

For example, you can implement techniques like competitive price tracking and optimization (e.g. tracking how competitor pricing compares to your own company’s pricing and how fluctuations in those price points impact conversion rate for natural and/or paid search keywords) in order to impact conversion rates, which in turn, impact the top and bottom line of your search programs. And if you’re in the e-commerce space, you can partner with your merchandising colleagues to provide data and insight on key product and brand trends in an effort to influence the breadth and quality of the assortment being sold on your site. Properly executing on this front can actually have a more profound impact on conversion rate than more traditional techniques such as A/B and multi-variate landing page testing.

The point is that with every passing day the search landscape – and the broader digital landscape – becomes more and more complex and more intertwined with other cross-functional facets of business operations. And while it’s nice to carve out a nice technical/tactical niche for yourself in rabbit holes that are SEO and paid search advertising chances are that over time and with ever-increasing technological sophistication those niches will become less and less relevant.

Don’t fool yourself. Search marketing isn’t simply a marketing tactic. It’s a form of business administration.

 

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If you’ve ever been to a marketing conference – or any major conference or convention for that matter – you already know that not all Powerpoint presentations are made equally. Some are very bland, boring, and by the book. Others come alive with imagery, humor, and a compelling storyline while serving as a springboard for the presenter.

And yet I find that many enterprise marketers both at agencies and working in-house positions fail to fully tap into the power that this Microsoft software relic has to offer.

Note: There are various other software programs capable of matching or even exceeding Powerpoint including cloud-based solutions like Google Docs’ “Presentation” app.

For years, I’ve told people in this digital marketing thing of ours that executing a successful marketing program is as much about selling as it is about strategic or tactical expertise. If you can’t get buy-in from executives or cross-functional stakeholders it’s unlikely that your ideas and initiatives will ever come to fruition no matter how smart they truly are.

In my experience, cliche as it may sound, more often than not it’s the Powerpoint presentation that’s the go-to format for conveying ideas in a way that can be easily digested by executives and stakeholders alike. And yet, I’ve come across so many people both on the agency side and on the in-house side that wouldn’t know how to build a solid Powerpoint deck if their life depended on it.

Moreover, some of the folks that do know how to build a decent Powerpoint deck and have seen what a truly influential Powerpoint presentation looks and feels likes make a crucial mistake in my opinion. That mistake is thinking that the kinds of decks they see at conferences are not “corporate” (e.g. tame) enough to be used in the day-to-day business environment. And so they insist on including tons of verbiage, complex data-graphs, and sterile agenda with not even a hint of the story-line patterns that are proven to move people. That or they convince themselves that since they’re not a professional artist or graphic designer they’re better of building slides with no imagery at all; the equivalent of a word doc in prose form only on a Powerpoint slide instead.

And that’s if they put any thought into the process of creating great presentations at all. Some never do. They dismiss Powerpoint presentations out of hand as unnecessary nuisances and then wonder why their ideas are never executed and why their online marketing careers are stagnating.

If you’re reading this and recognize yourself in any of the proceeding assertions it’s time to take action. Start by reading one of the many fantastic books on how to go about building truly great presentations. And then start practicing by putting your various strokes of strategic or tactical inspiration into Powerpoint format.

Before you know it, more of the no’s will become yes’ and more of your approach to marketing will be adopted by your clients and or corporate colleagues. And that can be a very good thing for both your marketing KPIs and your personal career.

 

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My first thought as brainstormed ideas for this week’s post was to write a counter-point to the guest post that Branko wrote over at Aaron’s blog. After all, I make no secret of the fact that I’m refusing to jump on the “Google is evil/a monopoly/ the Death Star in disguise” bandwagon. Google has certainly made their share of unethical or simply unpalatable transgressions of the years, but blaming them for one small business’ failure to innovate and compete in an increasingly competitive online marketplace is misguided in my opinion.

At the same time Branko and Aaron are two of my favorite online marketing people (I even went as far as to show off my tattoos to Branko in an alcohol-induced fit of bromance once) so while I disagree with them on this particular topic, I’ve decided that there’s no reason to delve any deeper at this point in time. People disagree on stuff like this, but life goes on either way.

Besides, this entire topic reminds me of one of my favorite realizations about this digital marketing thing of ours; that it’s truly in its infancy.

What do I mean? Perhaps a couple of crude analogies might help.

  • Internet marketing is about as old now (e.g. roughly 20 years) as the automobile industry was when the Model T became popular.
  • Internet marketing is about half as old now as the commercial air flight industry was when this happened

Basically, what I’m asserting is that rapidly-changing landscaping of the industry that we know and hate love (no seriously, I love this field) is going to continue to rapidly change, rendering the current landscape virtually unrecognizable in the coming years and decades.

For example, consider what will happen when the television industry finally succumbs and reluctantly allows TV to shift from a “dumb” offline media format to a “smart” online media format that allows for robust advertising and marketing analytics and targeting. Or consider what will happen when we finally bridge the current technological chasm that prevents us from properly tracking and attributing consumer behavior and conversion not just across marketing channels but across platforms (e.g. mobile vs desktop vs TV). Heck, imagine what will happen when marketing and advertising can read thoughts psuedo-telepathically?

Ok, maybe that last one is a bit much, but please forgive me. I have a penchant for futuristic daydreaming and it’s been a long day.

The point is that it pays to have a little bit of perspective in terms of where we are as an industry and where we’re likely going. As the events depicted in the aforementioned Branko guest post highlight, those that fail to plan for the future are setting themselves up for a big fall in this brave new digital world of ours.

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I decided to title this post using a cheesy old joke cliche, but the topic I want to discuss today is no laughing manner, especially if you’re work focuses around executing digital marketing strategy for a large brand.

One of the nice things about working for (or owning) a start-up or mom-and-pop business is that you more or less get to call all the shots and pull the trigger whenever and however you feel like it. That’s almost never the case when working with a large organization, and the more disruptive the strategy or tactic, the more stakeholders – executive and otherwise – that need to buy in and contribute before you can execute.

Case in point – I had two different meetings in one day that included a wide variety of stakeholders represent a broad cross-section of business divisions within HSN. One focused on securing the blessing of about a dozen stakeholders for a large content marketing initiative and is the culmination of several months (and dozens of individual meetings and discussions) of education and flat out internal selling of the idea. The other focused on brainstorming the best way to position A/B and multi-variate testing in a manner that will ensure a) executive buy-in b) successful operationalization c) actual results (e.g. a significant lift in conversion rate and revenue.

When I advise colleagues and friends that operate small businesses/websites on these types of initiatives this layer of administrative red tape simply doesn’t exist. Often times, it’s basically one person going, “yep, I’ve got money and that makes a lot of sense; let’s get started right away.” In fact, I often find that I have to convince folks in non-enterprise scenarios to slow down a bit and think things through down to the minutia instead of firing marketing scatter-shot. And frankly, that’s a nice problem to have.

But for those of you on the enterprise side of the equation that are all too familiar with this tremendous disparity in decision-making process here are a few pieces of insight I’ve gleamed over the years that seem to have helped me navigate the approval and buy-in waters with a relatively decent amount of success:

  • Learn how to sell ideas & initiatives to your colleagues and to executives – I’ve been fortunate in that I was in sales before getting into the field of marketing and also did a five-year stint selling agency services to enterprise brands. But even with that amount of experience I still find myself reading as many solid sales books as I can get my hands on.
  • Pick the right agency and consulting partners – sad is it may seem, if you bring in a partner with a solid track record, strong references, documented industry thought leadership, etc. it can help grease the wheels of hesitant stakeholders that might have otherwise balked on the idea or initiative you are trying to push through
  • Start with the money – it might sound cynical, but it’s the truth. Large, publicly-traded organizations (and many smaller ones too) make decisions on whether or not to green light an idea based on how much implementing said idea will cost as well as how much incremental business said idea will capture. If you don’t clearly articulate this part of the equation, your idea is likely doomed from the get go
  • Be nice – I’d be lying if I said that these layers of bureaucracy (and occasional opposition) don’t get to me at times. But I find that it’s much better to maintain composure and civility as opposed to “keepin’ it real” (e.g. becoming combative, defensive, aggressive, condescending, etc). I also find that if you’re nice to colleagues and do favors for them without expecting any reciprocation those individuals are much more likely to hear you out or advocate on your behalf when the time comes to pitch your idea.
Lastly, always remember that even when your idea gets turned down it’s not the end of the world. It’s simply an opportunity to learn about your company’s culture and refine your approach to leadership, collaboration, and communication.

Besides, tomorrow’s another day.

 

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Looking for a few good beta testers

I’ve always been a big believer in automation. It’s a big part of my overarching strategic approach to most digital marketing channels. However, one of the areas that has proven to be a real challenge to this automation mantra of mine has been the area of social influencer engagement.

The reason is that various aspects of influencer engagement require a 1-to-1 human touch. After all, it’s hard to build meaningful relationships with people (online or offline) if you don’t take the time to interact with said people in an intimate two-way dialogue. Therefore, it’s likely that these facets of the process will always be manual, human and decidedly un-automated.

But there are plenty of other areas that can be automated, and one in particular has caught my attention for the past few years

I’ve been using the technique since around 2004, I’ve been writing about it since 2009 and I decided to build a technology platform to automate it in early 2011.

While I’m not quite ready to release the tool to the public, I am looking for a handful of additional beta testers to help me streamline the interface and work out any lingering programmatic bugs.

In a nutshell, what the platform does is:

  1. Tap into your analytics data (Google Analytics only…for now)
  2. Analyze your referring sites data
  3. Identify new referring sites that have never referred traffic to you
  4. Provide automated alerts every time a new referring site comes along, so that you can strike while the iron is hot and engage with said site in an effort to build a foundation for an ongoing, mutually-beneficial relationship

This process is really just half the battle, because as I mentioned earlier in this post, you still need to know how to interact with these potentially influential sites in order to develop the type of relationship that can lead to marketing ROI.

Still, I’ve found that automating the information gathering and analysis process is extremely valuable from both a time-management standpoint as well as from a standpoint of insuring that no potential influencers fall through the cracks.

If you’re interested in being a beta tester for this tool, please send me a note via my contact form.

And if you have any questions about the broader process (with or without this new automation element) feel free to leave me a comment or contact me.

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