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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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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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A while back, I reached out to a trusted industry colleague to get his thoughts on the mobile search landscape. He, in turn, referred to me to the one person he trusts for mobile thought leadership, and I decided to pick her brain for a while. After engaging in a six-week consultation, I’ve come away even more convinced that what we currently consider to be “mobile marketing” will soon become just plain marketing.

Let me explain.

If you work for an enterprise brand of any sort, you’re likely very aware of the fact that:

a) a significant portion of your traffic and conversion originate from either a smart phone or a tablet, and that this portion is growing larger and larger with every passing day

b) many of these consumers are actually consuming your content and engaging with your brand via multiple mobile screens (e.g. both via tablets and via smart phones)

And if you keep up with current industry trends, you also know that nearly 1 out of every 5 people in the US do virtually all of their web browsing via mobile devices. Imagine what that number will be in 2013? 2015? 2020?

And yet amazingly, in talking with folks that manage businesses large and small, it’s quite apparent that many companies either put their mobile strategy on the back burner or ignore it all together. This is a major mistake in my opinion, because the repercussions of a poor or non-existent mobile presence extend to a variety of key marketing channels like search, social, and email as well as adversely impacting arguably the most important of all marketing facets; conversion optimization.

If you’re a marketer that’s guilty of putting mobile on the back burner, here are a few basic steps that you can take to correct your course:

1) Validate your site for mobile browsers

2) Learn about what Google has to say regarding responsive web design and other solutions for making your site mobile friendly

3) Focus on improving page-load speeds

No seriously, if you don’t do anything else, make a concerted effort to improve page-load speed for your website. The empirical evidence suggests that page-load speed is by far the number one factor determining how users perceive your site when viewing via a mobile browser. Moreover, improving page-load speed can also have a major impact on visitors that are using traditional desktop and laptop browsers.

Because guess what; all of your design, marketing, and advertising efforts – mobile or otherwise – won’t do a bit of good if your site takes forever to load.

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I had some interesting conversations with some friends of mine yesterday. Most of them were short and sweet. Some where really just a collection of musings. But a few actually gave me some ideas that I plan on implementing to help maximize my marketing career.

And the best part that all of this happened within the span of a minute or two via my Twitter stream.

These types of valuable, ROI-laden exchanges happen fairly frequently for me, which helps justify the 5-10 minutes per day that spend interacting with Twitter.com. However, valuable interactions are really just the tip of the iceberg. The real value, for me, is two-fold:

  1. The ability to get connected, introduced, or simply be made aware of fellow online marketers and business professionals that are experts in their particular fields, so that I can build my own personal business network
  2. The ability to follow these experts and create a collective stream of hyper-curated content links that I can read and digest in order to make sure that I’m ahead of curve in terms of trends, insights, analysis, and overall digital marketing strategy

The common thread that ties all three of the aforementioned Twitter perks is education. I learn by interacting with friends and colleagues. I learn about bright minds in the industry that I may have never become aware of otherwise. I learn about cutting edge marketing insights by reading the wonderful links that are introduced to me via my carefully curated Twitter stream.

Which brings me back to the conversation I was having with my friends this morning. What was it about? Curating your Twitter feed to minimize noise and maximize value!

John Doherty offered up the most insightful tip, pointing out that if you eliminate super chatty folks from your stream (e.g. people that Tweet incessantly day and night) you can cut down on noise significantly (he claimed that cutting out just one chatty tweeter cut his noise down by about 80%) but several other smart marketers also offered up interesting insights and affirmation.

One of the things several of us wondered about was how some Twitter users can stand to have thousands of folks in their stream. The noise would seem to be unbearable. My theory is that for many of these people, Twitter is really more about broadcasting (e.g. reaching as many individuals as possible). Therefore, they’re not really using their stream to learn. Instead, they’re willing to barter a follow for a follow back in an effort to grow that supposedly all-important follower count.

As far as I’m concerned, anyone approaching Twitter in that manner is missing out on the real ROI that this particular social media network can provide.

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In 2002, it was standard operating procedure

In 2007, it was cute.

Now, in 2012, it’s somewhat absurd.

Yet somehow, in the present day, there are still all sorts of companies – big and small – that simply cannot grasp why they would ever create web content that was explicitly geared towards selling something.

From blog posts promoting the latest product line to Facebook updates with lead-generation calls to action to a Twitter stream filled with nothing but coupons, call-outs, and daily specials it seems like there is still a very strong contingent of marketers that are unable to break away from the traditional broadcast, interruption marketing model. And when a business applies this approach to social media channels everyone loses.

Mind you, I’m convinced that in many cases – especially at the mid-tier to enterprise level – this adherence promotional content creation is the result of a marketers that are unable to convince their superiors that there is indeed a different, better way. If you’re stuck in this predicament, here are a few recommendations that might help you break through to your internal stakeholders and subsequently break away from promotional social posts:

  1. Sell it - Don’t just tell people that they should be building non-promotional social content (e.g. stuff people actually want to read and share as opposed to stuff that’s explicitly selling something). Put together a formal plan. Build out a good-looking Powerpoint presentation. Show the math (e.g. the ROI potential). And perhaps most importantly, learn how to tell your story in compelling way.
  2. Get buy-in from parallel stakeholders - If you talk to enough people within your organization, you might just find that there are hidden advocates that are ready and willing to back you up and vouch for the effectiveness of modern content marketing strategies. It could be the PR team, or maybe the copywriting/creative team, or maybe even a heady stakeholder in the finance division that’s into digital trends. The point is that you need to talk to folks and tell your story so that you can build up a groundswell that your superiors will find difficult to ignore or reject.
  3. Find a reputable third-party that can help advocate - There are a lot of very well-respected agencies out there that have the necessary industry accolades and case studies to help you sell your story internally. Find them and bring them in to help pitch the idea. Sometimes, an executive stakeholder requires external validation before he/she before giving the green light.
  4. Use SEO as the roadway to measurable ROI – social media content initiatives rarely drive direct response, so it’s hard to justify them in terms of lead-gen, e-commerce revenue, etc. However, if you can lucidly explain the clear link between social media content efforts and incremental SEO revenue, it will become that much easier to get the internal buy-in you need to change the content paradigm.

And lastly, be tenacious. Don’t give up on your efforts to usher in this paradigm shift. It could take months, maybe even years, but the long-term ROI is well-worth the sustained effort.

 

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Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of executing digital marketing strategy for a lot of different companies. From lead gen to e-commerce. From mom & pop to Fortune 100. And if there’s one prevailing theme that I’ve garnered from these experiences it’s the vast majority of organizations either don’t know about or refuse to engage in the one marketing tactic that can literally grow ROI exponentially without having to drive a single incremental site visit.

Have you guessed which tactic I’m referring to?

If not, let me spare you the suspense. I’m talking about conversion optimization.

Regardless of whether it’s a huge brand or some small, local start-up it seems like conversion optimization always takes a back seat to more conventional marketing and advertising initiatives if it’s part of the consideration set at all.

And this is nothing less than tragic in my opinion because some simple math proves the immense value that conversion optimization and testing can provide. For example, if your marketing program generates $1,000,000 per year in revenue and you currently convert at a rate of 2% (e.g. 2 out of every 100 visitors) improving your conversion by just half of a percentage point (e.g. 2.5%) will increase your revenue by $250,000 per year. Moreover, that increased revenue will continue to roll in over time, making conversion optimization efforts a high equity activity (e.g. the impact is felt well after the work is rendered).

In other words, that incremental $250,000 will likely continue to roll in year after year well after you invested the time, resources, and marketing budget to lift your conversion rate (and that’s assuming that ongoing conversion optimization testing doesn’t result in ever growing conversion rate percentages).

Factor in the relatively low cost of conversion optimization services and technology (Google Analytics offers a very sophisticated A/B & multivariate testing platform for free) as well as the fact that improving conversion means you can make more money off the existing volume of traffic you receive and the value of this tactic becomes all the more clear.

And there’s one final and fairly subtle benefit that’s worth mentioning. For companies that struggle with very low conversion rate, investing in advertising channels like paid search can be a real challenge due to negative ROI, and so for those companies investing in conversion optimization can help open the door to paid channels that would have previously been more or less out of reach.

If your company or clients haven’t seriously invested in conversion optimization you know what to do. Get cracking because you’re leaving all sorts of revenue on the table.

 

 

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Many moons ago, I wrote a post calling out Aaron Wall – someone I greatly respect – for going a bit overboard on the Google bashing tip (FYI – make sure to read that post all the way to the end and check out that eye sore of an anchor text drop I managed to insert in there).

Fast-forward five years and Aaron is still dipping into that well regularly, which is fine, because he also happens to be one of the few online marketers that speaks to themes that transcend marketing and deal with more fundamental, human, societal issues. I keep telling him that he should break away from marketing and focus on some of these truly pressing issues but he just won’t listen ; )

Anyhow, what I really want to address is the somewhat alarming and frankly perplexing trend I’ve been noticing as of late. It seems like with every passing day, more and more prominent online marketers are following Aaron’s lead and spending their time addressing the economic, philosophical, and even moral implications of Google’s business decisions.

Today, the topic of discussion centered on bashing Google for deciding to turn off the remnants of what was once a completely free traffic spigot that used to be known as Google Product Search. And while I get that it pays (e.g. leads to increased social follower counts) to wax poetic on the hot topics of the day, I am vehemently opposed to devoting more than a few seconds of my life analyzing how Google’s decisions regarding their product feed engine might or might not reflect a poor (or even non-existent) ethical stance.

Why?

Well for starters, if you’re so concerned about the moral and ethical well-being of human society, might I suggest that you look past Google’s relatively tame transgressions and focus your efforts on this, or this, or even this (among other things).

Secondly, and from a more pragmatic perspective, lamenting the ills inherent in Google’s current business model won’t move the needle for your business in any tangible way (unless you are in the business of being a thought leader that’s paid to share their opinions on goings on in the search engine marketing space). So instead of doing that, consider investing that time into capturing the market share that goes up for grabs every time Google changes the game in one way or another.

I can tell you that my team is all over this Google Shopping paradigm shift, and we’re already mobilizing and poised to snatch away every sliver of revenue we can from any competitors that either fall asleep at the wheel or get caught up complaining instead of responding to this latest evolution in the digital marketplace.

And we welcome any and all tweaks that may be in the works and actively try to predict where, when, and how those tweaks might manifest themselves, because we know that it affords us another opportunity to innovate and outmaneuver competitors that fail to recognize the evolutionary nature of this digital marketing ecosystem of ours.

And building that type of visionary, forward-thinking culture affords little to no time for crying over Google’s spilled milk.

 

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Earlier this week, I had a great conversation with an old CBS colleague turned life-long friend of mine. We talked about our personal lives, about our professional lives, and about the upcoming Anchorman sequel of course (it’s kind of a big deal).

It was awesome to catch up and compare notes on life, because he’s a few years younger than me and provides a youthful perspective that helps energize me as enter the peak of my “thirty-something” years.

But perhaps most importantly, he helped to confirm a suspicion I have about what often separates the good from the great in this digital marketing thing of ours:

What you do in your spare time.

While he’s admittedly not as obsessed with his stream of twitter and Google+ updates as I am, he did outline some of the changes he’s made in terms of what he does with his spare time. And much like was the case in my own personal life, there appears to be a direct correlation between the type of activities he engages in during his spare time and the degree of professional success he enjoys. And while the anecdotal stories of two individuals does not qualify as a rigorous exercise of the scientific method of inquiry, I do believe that this is a phenomenon worth investigating.

And what kind of behavior modification am I referring to? Here are a few examples:

  • Cutting back on TV time
  • Cutting back on video game time
  • Cutting back on party-at-the-bar/club time
  • Cutting back on unproductive social media interaction (e.g. “check out what I ate for lunch today” posts)
By cutting back on these activities and replacing with more product professional pursuits (e.g. educating yourself on a marketing channel you’re not as familiar with, starting up and maintaining that personal website you’ve always dreamed of starting, learning about cross-functional skills like Powerpoint presentation, learning how to code, learning how to manage people, etc.) you can make an appreciable impact on your marketing skills as well as your ability to influence peers, supervisors, clients, etc.

And that can, in turn, have a very noticeable impact on your career, your business, and perhaps even the quality of your personal life and relationships.

Mind you. I’m not saying that you should spend all of your time talking shop on Twitter, burning the midnight oil at the office, or reading each and every marketing guru book or white paper that makes the rounds. Disconnecting, physical exercise, and generally mindless fun can be an important part of the life mix and balance is certainly key.

However, I’ve seen too many up-and-coming marketing professionals self -sabotage their careers due to an overabundance of time spent on the fun stuff and not enough time spent refining their craft beyond the bounds of their 9-5 work schedule.

So by all means, enjoy the upcoming memorial day weekend if you’re here in the US. But when you get back into work mode next week take some time to seriously take stock of how you spend your personal time. You might just find that a few extra hours devoted to perfecting your craft could pay huge dividends both in terms of measurable marketing ROI as well as personal career growth.

P.S. I believe this applies to personal life as well. Always wanted to learn to play the guitar, or draw portraits, or develop a sweet round-house kick? No problem. Just cut a couple of hours of TV, video games, shots, etc. from your regular rotation, reallocate those hours to developing the skills related to your life’s dreams, then watch those dreams become reality.

 

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Want a hot SEO tip?

Start linking out to external sites more often, and when you do, make sure to utilize a “grass roots” approach.

What do I mean by “grass roots”? Simply put, I mean that when you link out, you should make it a point to seek out sites that are not a part of large corporate conglomerate and have a more organic, independent nature. In other words, if you have a choice between linking out to a major brand or a more obscure site, choose the more obscure site.

Why?

Because you’re much more likely capture the attention of a smaller site by linking to them. The smaller player is much more likely to engage in nimble marketing techniques like analyzing their referring site data for new referrers, because its much easier to do so when you have just a handful or a few dozen referring sites per day as opposed to the hundreds if not thousands of referring sites that might show up in the analytics data for a large brand. The smaller blogger is also more likely to enable and check trackback URLs, thereby making them much more likely to discover your outbound link that pointed to their blog.

Moreover, even if a large brand were to notice your link, it’s very likely that unless you represent a mega site with significant influence they will likely deem you not worthy of their attention or reciprocation. On the flip side, a smaller site will likely appreciate the gesture – especially if your site wields any sort of influence – and is therefore much more likely to reciprocate or even reach out to establish rapport and build a mutually beneficial relationship.

You’d be surprised at how many webmasters out there are steadily checking their referring site data and trackbacks, ready and willing to return the favor when the context warrants it. Mind you, the reciprocation can extend out beyond just SEO-friendly inbound links. It can also entail retweets, Facebook likes, Google+ shares, etc.

And that makes linking out in a “grass roots” manner all the more valuable.

Note: Sometimes, you simply can’t avoid linking out to a large brand, and that’s ok. At the end of the day, your outbound links should provide value to the user first and foremost, so if linking to a big brand is the best way to provide that value, don’t hesitate to do so. Besides, some of the more astute big brands are keeping an eye out for this sort of thing ; )

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