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I’m reading a fascinating book on the evolution of math and statistics over the past 100 years, and its impact on the scientific method of inquiry. This particular passage really caught my eye:

“A scientific career is peculiar in some ways. Its reason d’etre is the increase of natural knowledge. Occasionally, therefore, an increase of natural knowledge occurs. But this is tactless, and feelings are hurt. For in some small degree it is inevitable that views previously expounded are shown to be either obsolete or false. Most people, I think, can recognize this and take it in good part if what they have been teaching for ten years or so comes to need a little revision; but some undoubtedly take it hard, as a blow to their amour propre, or even as an invasion of the territory they have come to think of as exclusively their own, and they must react with the same ferocity as we can see in the robins and chaffinches these spring days when they resent an intrusion into their little territories. I do not think anything can be done about it. It is inherent in the nature of our profession…”

Make no mistake about it. Marketing, and digital marketing in particular, is a science (or at least it should be). And we are all – including me – subject to the type of folly outlined in Ronald A. Fisher’s aforementioned quote.

Keep this top of mind in your day to day. It will help you avoid falling into the trap of believing that your years of experience and measurable ROI have somehow inoculated you from being wrong at least some of the time. It will also help remind you to constantly question even your most cherished conclusions.

This is crucial, because the coming years will bring about a literal avalanche of data-driven marketing methodology that will likely falsify many of the “best practices” that many of us have leaned on for years.

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A colleague of mine shared a presentation with me. It was about the correlation between TV air time and revenue generated by our website. There were some fascinating data points, some of which were counter-intuitive, which is always a good thing because data that goes against intuition is what typically gets the gears to start turning.

What stood out to me is the fact that this study was addressing a question that had never been asked before. Namely, how does TV promotion impact e-commerce?

These are the golden moments that can lead to new questions, new KPIs, or perhaps even a completely new way of prioritizing and setting business strategy. They are definitely not an everyday occurrence, and unfortunately for some businesses, they are not an occurrence at all. Why? Because a lot of businesses are satisfied with conducting business as usual.

Don’t be that business. Learn to cultivate those “nobody’s ever asked that before” moments.

“But how do you go about doing that” you ask?

I’m sure that there are a lot of ways, but here are a few that have worked for me over the years:

  1. Don’t lean on mainstream publications to inform your strategic approach – Sadly, the majority of colleagues I’ve had over the years subsist solely on information gleamed from mainstream publications and consultancies. Well guess what? That means you’re feeding your mind from the same trough that virtually all of your competitors are feeding from. And that will almost never lead to these golden moments. This approach a recipe for mediocrity in a marketing climate that’s rapidly becoming more and more of a zero sum game.
  2. Test anything and everything, especially if its new – Over the years, I’ve witnessed countless companies pass on strategies and tactics because they seemed foreign and outside of the mainstream marketing consciousness only to go into reactive mode a year or two (or ten) later once said tactic or strategy had reached the tipping point in terms of widespread acceptance.
  3. Invest in data science – The smartest people I know with access to the most privileged information around tell me that this is where the smart money (and people) are going. And I can tell you from personal experience as well as empirical data that few companies, even at the enterprise level, are fully leveraging data science to improve their business, let alone to improve their approach to marketing.

This third bullet point is a biggie for me. I spend a ridiculous amount of time playing with bigger and bigger sets of data (e.g. the kind that forces you to abandon Excel and learn SQL) and I’m also refreshing my math skills with an eye towards returning to school to pursue a degree in applied mathematics.

Why? Because data has revolutionized our understanding of the real world in the past 100 years or so and it will do the same to this marketing thing of ours in the coming years.

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I was going to put together a highly technical article to support my hypothesis, even going as far as to invoke shades of constructor theory, but then it hit me that’s its best to cover a counter-intuitive concept with a simply visual metaphor.

Simply put, good social media marketing is a bit of a magic trick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I mean is that much like a good magic trick, it goes against common intuition. Still not following me? Well then let me lay out a few examples:

  1. Social media content shouldn’t overtly promote or market anything – instead it should be editorial in nature. This is a very difficult thing for many marketing executives to grasp – even at the enterprise level. They constantly get hung up on how a particular campaign or content is going to promote a particular product, service, brand, etc. They insist on making direct-response revenue the one of, if not “the”, primary KPI. Instead, strive to create editorial content that provides some sort of value to the human beings engaging with it first and foremost. Said content can be loosely related to the types of products/services your brand offers, but that should be far from the primary goal. Instead, the primary goal should be to make something interesting; something a human being will actually want to remember and share with friends. Sadly, this often not the case, because many marketers are still stuck in the traditional marketing mindset and insist on promotion when they should instead be focus on getting permission. Incidentally, if you do adopt this approach but your brand insists on working in some promotion, insist on an 80/20 rule (80% of the good stuff, 20% of the overtly promotional stuff).
  2. Social media’s best method for generating direct-response conversion is via natural search (e.g. SEO) – I often refer to this as a magic trick because when done properly, social media promotions can result in a steady stream of influential links from influential websites, which in turn, can drive improved natural search positioning (assuming you have all of the technical SEO facets in order). And once that happens, all it takes is a little bit of nimble analytics reporting to demonstrate how the social media had a direct impact on SEO conversion/revenue. The same magic trick can be employed by PR leaders looking to validate their efforts, but I digress…
  3. Social media is about much more than marketing – Astute marketers should immediately look to partner with cross-functional stakeholders in PR, customer service, and other key business divisions (including the C-suites) so that they can build out a fundamental social business strategy. Then and only then can you fully leverage the data and insights that digital social networks can provide.
Some of these ideas go directly against the grain of what most self-professed social media gurus are preaching these days. But as you likely already know, social media gurus are a dime a dozen. Measurably successful social media strategy is a much rarer gem.

 

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Every so often, Google Webmaster Tools adds a new wrinkle that makes life measurably easier for SEO leadership at large organizations. Index Status is one of those wrinkles.

This nifty little feature – which was released this past summer but has gotten relatively little fanfare considering the profound insights and leverage it can provide – does two things that I find crucial:

  1. It helps quickly diagnose very serious issues with duplicate and/or non-canonical URLs that could be wasting your daily allotment of crawl budget while simultaneously confusing the hell out of search engine crawlers.
  2. It provides a very intuitive data visualization that can be used to tell a very compelling story to cross-functional stakeholders, which in turn, can lead to the site and server-level implementation to overcome duplicate and canonical issues.

Now there are a few things to keep in mind that will help ensure that you get the most value possible out of this feature. For starters, in order to get to the really interesting data you need to click on the “Advanced” tab. That’s how you can gain access to “Not Selected” data, which essentially refers to URLs that have been crawled by Google but not indexed because of duplicate content issues or because of server-side redirects that are in place (and other issues as well). This is an important piece of data because it can give you a fairly accurate sense for whether or not you have major issues with rogue – often auto-generated – URLs.

In my experience, it’s normal to see a fairly high ratio of “Not Selected” to “Indexed” pages. In other words, more often than not, you’ll have a significant portion of your site’s URLs not selected for Google’s index particularly if you’ve had to implement a lot of server-side redirects (which is often the case for enterprise-caliber websites). However, if you have a ridiculous ratio of “Not Selected” to “Indexed” URLs or if you have a ridiculous overall number of “Not Selected” URLs (I’ve seen instances of sites with tens of millions of “Not Selected” URLs) or if the graph shows a major spike in either the ratio or absolute number of “Not Selected” URLs than it’s likely time to invest some significant resources into really opening up the hood to understand why, how, and how often Google is finding all of these URLs and why they are choosing to exclude them from the index.

Fact of the matter is that this Google Webmaster Tools feature won’t dive into granular details (e.g. provide the actual URLs being labeled as “Not Selected”, etc.) so you will need to employ advanced server log file analysis techniques like the one in the article I linked to above as well as other data-driven operations in order to figure out what URLs are being excluded, why they’re being excluded, how they’re being generated in the first place, and what you can do to remedy the situation in a scalable and technically feasible manner.

But even though this feature isn’t capable of any sort of deep dive, I still find that the simple ability to monitor this key metric and share visualizations with key organizational stakeholders in order to persuade them to make important technical and architectural changes make this feature really valuable.

Managing your site’s crawl budget is key, and that makes Index Status a nifty little tool indeed.

 

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I didn’t go to school for marketing. In fact, I never took as much as a single course in marketing during my college days. And in hindsight, that might have been a good thing.

Why?

Because with every passing day, I see some of the more traditional, subjective facets of marketing (what some refer to as the “art” of marketing) giving way to a much more analytical, dare I say mathematical, approach to marketing (what some refer to as the science of marketing). And I know that I’m not alone. It seems like with every passing day, more and more of the big opportunities lie in disciplines like marketing finance and big data science. I’m even starting to see some of the big players including skills like SQL in marketing leadership jobs that have historically focused on “idea” people as opposed to analysis people.

Even at the day to day level, it seems like more and more of the meetings I attend deal with statistical significance, A/B splits, and data integrity as opposed to campaign tag lines and marketing hooks. I’m loving it because I’m a big believer in creating a culture of testing, and creating that type of culture requires moving away from subjective approach to executing marketing campaigns and initiatives. Yet at the same time, it’s got me thinking that I should be spending my spare time sharpening up my mathematical, statistical, and programming skills (and perhaps even returning to school) so that I can keep pace with breakneck speed at which analytical sophistication impacts the various digital marketing channels that I work with.

And then I think about folks I’ve worked with that consider themselves “traditional marketers.” Pivot tables are foreign to them. A/B tests are a necessary evil if not an encumbrance. Marketing is all about getting credit for the next “big idea” or about documenting process or about schmoozing with colleagues and business partners.

Mind you, there’s certainly a place for big ideas, process, and schmoozing. There likely always will be. But as digital begins to overtake traditional individuals with a skill set geared only for the latter and not at all for the former will likely find themselves outflanked by individuals that took the time to develop both simultaneously.

And you can forget about it once TV finally succumbs and becomes a truly digital channel that’s subject to interactivity and analytics tracking.

So the moral of this story is this:

If you’re already knee deep in the scientific side of marketing, don’t become complacent. Keep refining and developing those skills and that knowledge base, because I can guarantee you that there are new generations of super smart and tech-savvy kids who could soon be nipping at your professional heels.

And if you’re one of these traditional marketers, recognize that you’re at a crossroads and take the steps necessary to ensure that you don’t become obsolete in the digital long run.

 

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Anyone who’s ever worked with me or for me knows that I’m not particularly fond of meetings. Especially if they’re unproductive. I’m the kind of guy that’s always asking for a few minutes back towards the end of a meeting if we’ve already worked through all of the key agenda items. I also encourage my direct reports to cut meetings short or cancel them altogether if there’s no productivity to be had.

I find that even at the enterprise level, a quick and informal five-minute chat can be just as productive – if not more so – than 30 minutes of a formal “go through the motions” staff meeting.

So what’s an enterprising digital marketer to do? After all, we know that meetings are an unavoidable part of corporate life and that those dreaded calendar invites are never going to stop showing up in your inbox, right? Well I think that I have found a few ways to leverage that very calendar program to help boost my actual marketing output and so I figured I’d share them with you.

Here are some of the most effective ones I’ve stumbled across thus far:

  • Schedule shorter meetings – I’m probably a bit on the extreme side and have been known to send out invites for five minute meetings (seriously) but it’s ok if you’re not ready to be that bold. What you can do is schedule 15 minute meetings instead of the typical 30 to 60 minute time slots. You’ll be surprised at just how much you can cram into a 15-minute segment when you condition yourself and your colleagues to work within that time constraint.
  • Replace your “To Do List” software with your calendar – For years, I use Outlook’s Task Manager application to manage my to-do list because it was great for prioritizing items as well as setting up recurring tasks. I also dabbled with awesome apps like Evernote. Eventually, I figured out that I could simply use my Outlook calender in the same manner (e.g. for scheduling to-dos) and this provided an additional and very subtle advantage. Adding just a few key recurring tasks made my calendar look busier and discouraged folks from booking too many meetings with me. And this is a beautiful thing because the truly necessary meetings that have real business value are still scheduled while those fluff meetings end up being sent my way less frequency. Mind you, I’m not out to intentionally deceive colleagues. Lying is not cool. It’s just that at the end of the day those time slots represent my time and I value my time greatly. The to-dos I add to my calendar represent real work deliverables that typically drive measurable business value and so I don’t feel bad about booking up those slots.
  • Set long-term goal reminders – It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while I get a good idea. Unfortunately, I can’t always act on the idea right away due to competing priorities. Instead of jotting them down on a post-it note or letting slip away into the background of my consciousness I set a calendar reminder on a date in the not-so-distant future and this helps ensure that said idea doesn’t fall through the cracks. The same goes for keeping tabs on an emerging technology or a cool up-and-coming vendor I don’t have time or budget for at the present time.
If you’re like me, you actually love and have a real passion for the work that you do. Therefore, you’d rather spend less time in a conference room or on a conference call and more time making the needle move.
Ironically, that very technology that brings all those time-suck meetings your way can also be a weapon in your productivity and marketing ROI arsenal.

 

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One of the few downsides of moving up the ranks in the enterprise marketing space is the gradual distancing that occurs between the more technical aspects of optimization and your day-to-day responsibilities.

I don’t get to perform keyword research or craft title tags or adjust bids or A/B test subject lines or suggest ad creative that often anymore.  I rarely get to perform email outreach. And I almost never get to play database administrator or web analytics dashboard creator.

Mind you, it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve made it a point throughout my career to make sure that I keep my tactical skills sharp, because I’m convinced that much like great military leaders, great marketing leadership is always close to the front lines and ready to role their sleeves up and get their hands dirty.

And speaking of rolling the sleeves up, let me tell you a story about togetherwerise.org.

My lovely wife turned me onto them a while back when she heard about their mission on a TV show. In a nutshell, they’re dedicated to improving the lives of children in foster care, and if you know anything about the plight and prospects of most foster children, you instantly realize the just how noble their cause truly is.

My wife was so touched by their mission that she decided to reach out to the organization and let them know that her husband was a digital marketer who would be willing to pitch in and help with their marketing and promotion efforts. I’m glad that she did, because their founder Danny responded, and as is the case with most non-profit organizations, they simply do not have the resource or expertise to maximize their reach via digital channels.

Fast-forward to today and we’ve begun a friendly dialogue between Danny and I, whereby he asks questions about search, social, etc. and I provide him with my point of view as well as useful marketing resources that will help them help themselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that most of the digital marketers out that I’ve befriended over the years (either virtually or in person) are truly good, altruistic people. At the same time, I’m painfully aware that modern society suffers varying degrees of apathy, resulting in a woeful shortage of volunteerism. After all, we’re all busy with work, family, partying, fantasy football, Reddit, celebrity watching, reality TV, scrolling through our iPhones, etc.

But I digress.

This is a digital marketing blog, so the main point of this post is to demonstrate how providing pro bono marketing consulting to a non-profit (or two, or ten) of your choice can help you keep your tactical skills sharp. Give it a shot when you get a chance.

It gives the acronym “ROI” a whole new meaning.

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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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