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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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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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