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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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Don’t you just love it when you learn something accidentally? I sure do, because those brushes with serendipity can have a huge impact on your long-term success.

Let me explain what I mean by sharing a quick story:

Some time ago, I was approached by some colleagues in charge of managing of a different part of HSN’s digital business. They felt that there was a lot of opportunity to leverage SEO – one of the channels that I manage – in order to drive incremental revenue and market penetration. I agreed, and decided to pitch in some of my marketing budget in order to bring in a new vendor that could help capture some of that SEO opportunity for this particular portion of the business.

To be fair, I felt that there was something in it for me (e.g. generating incremental natural search revenue in aggregate) and so I didn’t think much about sharing my resources. However, what I didn’t realize at the time was how this relatively small sharing gesture would result in a significant surge in collaboration, implementation, and general advocacy on the part of this particular division. In fact, the amount of effort and emphasis that this group provided extended beyond SEO and into one of the other channels that I manage.

And the result has been obvious lift in ROI for both of these channels as well as a much stronger sense of rapport between my team and this parallel business group.

I share this because it frankly had not occurred to me that the simple act of sharing resources could have such a profound reciprocal impact. And looking back, I’ve come to realize that this phenomenon is not simply limited to sharing marketing budget. It could be sharing an agency resource, or helping build a presentation, or sharing employee or intern resources, etc.

I think that a lot of us marketers get stuck in the weeds of tactical implementation and strategic planning. That creates the potential for a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to allocating resources (e.g. what can we do to support and grow our own channels). If you fear that you might perhaps be falling victim to this mindset, take a moment to step back and think through ways that you and your team can add value to your counterparts within the organization (and if you’re on the agency or freelance side of the coin, advise your clients to do so).

As I recently found out, this can pay huge dividends when your counterparts decide to return the favor.

 

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Warning: The following advise is for advanced paid search marketers only. Attempting to implement this strategy prematurely can result in losing your shirt (and maybe even your job or small business).

One of the things I’ve always found fascinating is the contrast between how paid search budgets are managed by smaller businesses and how they’re managed at the enterprise level.

Small business owners very cost conscious, and for good reason, since their cash flow and credit is typically limited.  Therefore, many small business paid search programs are focused on not exceeding budget caps. This often results in paid search programs that develop a bit of tunnel vision in that the main goal becomes getting the maximum number of relevant paid search clicks possible within a given spend budget. So for example, if a company determines that the most they can spend per day is $100, the paid search program is focused on getting the most clicks possible for that $100 expenditure.

That can actually work fairly well to a certain extent, but it’s very different than what typically occurs at the enterprise level.

Enterprise brands that focus on direct response (e.g. lead generation, e-commerce, or trackable brick-and-mortar sales) tend to spend much less time (if any) adhering to a hard budget cap. Instead, they typically take a much more financially nuanced approach.

For starters, enterprise paid search channels (along with most if not all other channels) are viewed through the lens of both historical performance trends and forecasting future performance. In other words, these companies have a very strong grasp on how quickly the program is growing year-over-year and they attempt to use that historical trend data along with other variables to predict how much growth will occur future. So for example, if the company made $50,000,000 in 2009 and $55,000,000 in 2010 and $60,500,000 in 2011, then the company knows that the program has grown by 10% year-over-year for two years in a row. It can now use that information to figure out the amount of growth it should see in 2012.

But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. These companies will perform similar financial analysis on the spend side of the ledger. In other words, they’ll take steps to understand how much money was spent in prior years and use that to figure out how much should be spent moving forward.

And this naturally leads to the concepts like efficiency and and the point of diminishing returns.

If you know how much you’ve spent and made in prior years (this is year-over-year analysis is often broken down by month) you can figure out how efficient your spend has been (e.g. you made $5 for every $1 you spent) and you can use that information to try and peg the optimal spend allocation and corresponding efficiency level moving forward

This is easier said than done because there are a lot of variables that can impact how your paid search program performs (competitive bidding, conversion rate fluctuations, product assortment, public relations and customer service issues, economic factors, etc.) but the goal is to try and figure out an efficiency level that allows you to make a healthy net profit while also ensuring that you have maximum share of voice (another important metric that many smaller businesses overlook) and grab the maximum amount of revenue available for the given time period.

I know from experience that overestimating how your program is going to perform (e.g. overestimating how increasing spend will impact your efficiency) can result in going beyond the point of diminishing returns and essentially wasting a lot of money. Large organizations can easily absorb this cost because it’s typically a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things and can actually help improve future forecasting.

Small businesses typically don’t have the same luxury.

That said, if you do have a bit of a cushion and are looking to take your paid search advertising strategy to the next level, I encourage you to look into the concepts I’ve outlined above. Doing so will help you ensure that you’re not leaving money on the table.

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This week’s post is going to be short and sweet. Because it’s been a long work week, because my two-year old wore me out this evening, and because tomorrow morning it’s my turn to pick up bagels for our weekly digital marketing bagel breakfast.

But just because it’s a short post doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable one.

I’ve talked about attribution in the past, with a focus on attributing conversions to the various channels that make up an enterprise marketing program. Today, I’m actually just going to focus on attribution within one specific marketing channel; paid search advertising. Traditionally, paid search advertising effectiveness has been judged based on last-click attribution. What that basically means is that you give the final click 100% of the credit for a conversion event. That basically means that any other marketing or advertising touches (e.g. a display ad view, organic search click, email open, etc.) that might have occurred prior to the conversion event gets zero credit for said conversion.

Innovative marketers are beginning to experiment with other types of attribution models, including first-click (e.g. giving the first marketing touch 100% of the credit) equal-weighting (e.g. each touch gets some credit) and several other variations.

One nuance that even these forward-thinking marketers sometimes overlook is the idea of taking a specific range of paid search program data (let’s say a month for the sake of example) and performing a comparative analysis to see how individual keywords in the portfolio perform when viewed through the last-click lens vs. the first-click lens. By doing this, you’re able to very quickly isolate things like:

1) The number of keywords (and amount of spend) that doesn’t drive any conversions regardless of whether viewed via the first-click or last-click attribution lens. This can be a powerful tool for evaluating the long-tail portion of the program, which is notoriously difficult to audit due to the relatively low amount of clicks and impressions that occur on a keyword-by-keyword basis

2) Identify keywords that appear to be wildly inefficient when viewed through the last-click lens, but actually result in a decent number of conversions when viewed through the first-click lens. This is particularly valuable for evaluating the effectiveness of expensive, top-of-the-funnel, head terms that often don’t result in an immediate conversion but can often be the “opener” for a consumer that’s still in the consideration phase and may have not thought to consider your brand had he/she not seen and clicked on your paid search ad.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can do with first vs. last-click attribution data just within the paid search channel. So if you’re running paid search for an organization or managing multiple paid search clients as part of an agency or freelance offering, make sure to delve into the possibilities that this type of attribution analysis can provide.

Implementing this type of analytics methodology can and does pay huge dividends for enterprising digital marketers.

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Last week, my buddy John Doherty posed a great follow-up question to my post on how diplomacy often trumps technical ability. Simply put, he asked me how I go about building a foundation for said diplomacy when I begin work with a new brand. Fortunately for me, I recently started working with HSN, so the memory is fresh in my mind.

Step 1 actually begins before you agree to work with a company (and this is true regardless of whether you’re looking at an in-house position or an agency/freelance client). I spent well over a month evaluating HSN to figure out if it truly had the type of culture that would facilitate the various facets of both SEO and paid search (I manage both sides of the search coin for them). Only after I spoke with enough internal stakeholders and read up on their recent history and executive leadership did I finally decide to take the plunge. And four months in, it seems to me that my skeptical and measured approach to evaluating the company has definitely been rewarded. It’s been a fantastic work experience!

Step 2 is all about making connections. I spent about 50-75% of the first month of employment reaching out to stakeholders and setting up intro meetings, lunches, etc. Since HSN is an online retailer we have a ton of merchandising stakeholders, each of which required individual attention. And there’s also the PR team, the social team, the analytics team, the dev team, the executive team (both on the digital side of the business and the traditional TV network side). Oh, and let’s not forget about finance, accounting, legal, tax compliance. And how could I forget the various existing agencies, and our Google reps, and, well, you get the picture. Like an old buddy of mine used to say, it’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you.

Step 3 is about asking the right questions and getting the right data. Interestingly, these two things are sometimes one and the same. One of the first things I did (and always tried to do when I was on the agency side) is request access to our analytics data. If/when we didn’t have certain data segments that might be useful, I started to inquire about what it would take to get them.

I also spent a lot of time asking my analysts and other cross-functional colleagues about the lay of the land. What was my predecessor like? Why did he leave? Who’s into SEO. Who’s doesn’t have a clue or a care about it? What do the executives like?  What do they not like? Who really calls the shots? What pitfalls should I avoid to stay out of hot water? How much appetite for risk is there? Frankly, this is an ongoing initiative, and I’m constantly learning new things about the history of the company, the future plans of key stakeholders, and for that matter, about other key stakeholders I didn’t even know existed (HSN is a pretty big organization).

Step 4 is well, the technical stuff. What’s really wrong with the site? What does the content and link landscape look like? Is there a major site redesign or migration on the horizon? I didn’t get into this aspect of my job in earnest until well after a month of being at the company. Why? Because the way I figure, I’ve got plenty of time to crystallize my viewpoint on what needs to be fixed and what the short and long-term opportunities are.

But I only get one shot to make a remarkable first impression with the myriad of colleagues that will ultimately ensure that my search program is a smashing success.

I hope this helps, and if you have any follow-up questions, please don’t hesitate to share them via the comment section below.

 

 

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Just wanted to share that for the umpteenth time in my career, my direct experience is once again confirming that diplomacy trumps technical skill when it comes ensuring long-term SEO success.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that any palooka off the street can succeed at SEO. Having at least a decent understanding of the fundamental underpinnings of natural search are still a prerequisite. However, more often than not, it’s the ability to collaborate with both internal and external stakeholders that makes the difference between mediocrity and rock start status.

Moreover, this key skill is required at all three core facets of SEO:

  • Technical SEO
  • Link Building (and yes, I’m lumping “SEO friendly” social content marketing in this bucket)
  • Analytics

At the technical level, diplomacy can be the difference between getting your page, site, and server-level recommendations implemented quickly versus waiting weeks if not months (maybe even years in some extreme cases) for the dev/IT team to “get around to that SEO stuff.” It can also be the difference between getting looped in at the most preliminary stages of a major site redesign or CMS migration versus finding out about these initiatives midstream (or worse yet, after they’ve already been completed!).

As far as analytics is concerned, the value of diplomacy is inversely correlated with the size of the company involved. With smaller companies the SEO can often have direct control over analytics implementation as well as direct access to analysis via Google Analytics. At larger organizations, that precious SEO data can be a lot hard to access, particularly if said company is using more complicated analytics platforms like Omniture or Coremetrics. And when this is indeed the case, diplomacy can be the difference between getting direct access and setting up the necessary SEO-centric reporting dimensions versus performing SEO with a blindfold on.

I left link building for last because in my experience, it is where diplomacy is absolutely critical, particularly when dealing with enterprise-caliber brands. For starters, diplomacy is one of the skills that facilitates effective link building outreach. You have to get along with bloggers and webmasters in order to build the relationships that lead to inbound links.

But that’s 101 stuff.

The real heavy lifting occurs in terms of building the diplomatic ties that facilitate the kind of large-scale, authoritative link building activities that not only lead to an unassailable SEO advantage but can also set the stage for success in parallel channels like social media and public relations. But building these stakeholder ties is often fraught with all sorts of communication hurdles and bureaucratic red tape. It can require getting face time with and approval from:

  • the social media team
  • the PR team
  • the brand marketing team
  • the copy/content team
  • the merchant team (if you work for a retail brand)
  • the dev/IT team
  • the legal team
  • the tax liability team
  • the finance team
  • the executive team
You get the picture.
The good news is that if you can run this labyrinth while simultaneously lining up the the right talent (either internally or via agency partners) to produce the content, identify the link prospects, and effectively build relationships with those link prospects via that aforementioned content, it will only be a matter of time before you build the kind of SEO authority that is immune to the ups and downs of search engine algorithm updates and actually helps buoy parallel marketing channels at the same time.
And in my experience, there’s nothing more satisfying and ROI friendly than executing SEO without the need to chase any algos and with the full, top-down support of your organization.

 

 

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Do you love SEO and feel like you could dive its depths for the rest of your career? Do you think email marketing is your long-term career destiny? Do you thoroughly enjoy display media planning and think it’s a great fit for you? Do you believe that social media is the place to be both now and in the future?

That’s cool with me, because there’s nothing wrong with endless passion and deep expertise. However, in my experience, it pays to branch out from your core discipline and diversify your portfolio of marketing knowledge.

Mind you, it’s not just about job security, though having more than one feather in your cap can definitely open up doors in the corporate world. Rather, the reason for the recommendation has to do with what diversification can do to your overall marketing perspective.

Here’s why and how:

  • For starters, with every passing day, many of the supposedly silo disciplines that we know and love become increasingly intertwined with other supposedly silo disciplines. Want to be a successful SEO? You’d be have a fairly deep understanding of social media, PR, and coding among other things. Want to grow your brand’s social media following? You’d better learn how to properly leverage email segmentation and messaging in order to usher your existing customers into your social media community elements. And so on, and so forth.
  • As multi-channel attribution develops and matures as a discipline, the ties between channels will become more evident and success in one will be dependent on alignment with the others. For example, my brand’s attribution insights are helping us recognize just how integral parallel marketing channels can be in terms of maximizing the revenue we generate via paid search. In other words, it would be virtually impossible to maximize ROI in one of the channels I directly manage (paid search) if I didn’t have an intimate understanding of what was happening in several parallel channels that I don’t manage directly.
  • Working closely with other channels and their corresponding stakeholders helps you develop a healthy respect and admiration, and that in turn, often results in a more empathetic and less contentious approach to dealing with those stakeholders, even when you’re reasonable certain that your point of view is the right one. And guess what? You get more bees honey then vinegar.

In a nutshell, what I’m saying is that educating, and in some cases, immersing yourself in channels outside of your main discipline can actually make you more of an expert in your main discipline. It sounds like a paradox, I know. But those that have experienced this phenomenon in action know that I speak the truth.

If you’ve been enveloped and consumed by your marketing channel of choice up until this point, give this approach a try. You might like the effect it has on your marketing world view as well as the effect it has on your channel’s marketing ROI.

 

 

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