Search Marketing – What’s New?

December 28, 2011 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Local Search,SEO — Tags: , ,

Much has been happening in the world of Internet Marketing lately, so here is a brief synopsis of what’s new, and what it means for small businesses looking to market themselves on the web.

Growth of online advertising.  Internet advertising will be 2nd only to TV advertising in revenues by 2014 and will surpass newspaper ad revenues by 2013.  While representing 14.4% of all advertising today, Internet advertising is projected to grow to 21% of all ad revenues by 2014, growing by roughly $10B a year for the next 3 years.  Read more.

Google ads everywhereGoogle puts online ads everywhere.    Online real estate is limited and growing more scarce.  So, Google is trying to squeeze ad real estate out of every corner they can.  Here are 6 new paid search products that Google has introduced to offer still more opportunities to advertise online.  Read more.

Google deals.    It appears that Google is planning to roll out a ‘check-in’ feature for its Google Place Pages so that companies can offer coupons & deals like they do with Groupon, Living Social and other deal competitors that are growing in popularity.  Can Google really compete in this space, even after earlier failed attempts?  Will sharing offers on Google+ make the difference for them?  Read more.

Onsite Review Stations…go for it!  We’ve advised many clients with walk-in businesses to put a computer in their lobby to encourage customers to post reviews, since it helps improve their local search ranking.  Some industry pundits have written that Google would frown on this and find a way to penalize such behavior, but Mike Blumenthal reports that Google is now publicly encouraging the practice.  If you’re not doing this already, why wait?  Read more.

Negative reviews – keep your cool.   While we’re talking about reviews, I always like to pass on good advice about how best to handle any negative online reviews posted about your business.  It’s always a delicate situation, and one to be handled carefully.  Here’s some good advice from industry veteran Andrew Shotland.  Read more.

Location targeting for mobile is hot.  Mobile internet use is exploding with the growth in smart phones, and Google last May announced that 40 percent of mobile searches are for local businesses.  Advertisers are jumping on this trend by targeting their ads by location.  BIA Kelsey blog estimates that 29 percent of mobile campaigns today are targeted locally, and that it’ll grow to 69 percent of mobile ad spending by 2015. Time for you to jump on the bandwagon?  Read more.

PPC ads drive offline sales, big-time.  New research shows that PPC ads drive 6 times more business in in-store sales than in ecommerce sales, with an average PPC click worth $15 in in-store sales.  Unfortunately, this good news is often difficult to track, so it goes unnoticed and unreported.  But retail marketing firm RevTrack has developed some clever methods for tracking and measuring offline results.  Read more.

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Facebook’s F8 Announcements – Too Much Information!

September 23, 2011 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Social Media Marketing — Tags: ,

As always when major news happens in the online marketing arena, I’ve spent a fair amount of time today digesting the announcements Facebook made at its F8 Developer conference yesterday (see Facebook’s page on the event).  While I’ve never been much of a Facebook fan to begin with (I’m just not exhibitionist by nature), the new features seem over-the-top… even for people who do like to share.  How much do we really want to know about hundreds of other people, after all?  And how much more time do people really have to waste on daily trivia and minutiae?  I think it’s time to call TMI.

If you haven’t seen or read about the new Facebook updates, these were the key news highlights:

Timeline. The redesigned Facebook Profile includes a “Timeline” allowing users to go back as far as their birth date and fill in with pictures and important events, essentially creating & sharing their entire autobiographical photo history.

New Apps. With a new developer capability called Open Graph, Facebook apps will now allow users to share with their friends whatever they’re doing – automatically.  You’ll be notifying your friends about what you’re reading, what music you’re listening to, what you’re watching, and whatever else developers can think of for you to share.  The news of your activity will appear in a new Ticker stream. Then your friends can copy you or share the experience with a single click.

Facebook Partners. To illustrate what you can do with the new Open Graph apps, Facebook announced partnerships with a bunch of media and entertainment companies (see Why Netflix, Spotify and Others are Friending Facebook).   All of them referenced examples of how you can share and consume news & entertainment — without ever leaving  Facebook.

So, does this make you want to jump in and add, not just your recent photos like before, but your entire life history in pictures for the world to see?  Does it make you hungry to know everything that all your Facebook friends are reading, watching and listening to?  Does it tempt you to leave behind the onerous task of browsing all your favorite news & entertainment websites, so you can consume their content from inside Facebook?

Hmmm.  Not me.  Doesn’t make me want to jump aboard.  Maybe I’m a luddite or a hermit or just anti-social.  But what I’ve read elsewhere about the Facebook updates shows I’m not alone.  Here are some reactions from others that I happen to agree with.

New York TimesFacebook as Tastemaker.  Can Facebook become the primary channel for web users to determine where and how they spend their time & money?  Perhaps, but some think such big goals will eventually be their undoing, just as Microsoft and AOL stumbled by overreaching.

Biznology. The New Facebook: I Get it and I Don’t.  Facebook’s focus has now turned from acquiring new users (who doesn’t use it at this point?) to expanding what users do on the site.  But who can (or wants to) absorb and learn all these new things?  Not me, says author Frank Reed.

Mashable. Is Facebook Trying to Kill Privacy?  Good question, as the new features encourage users to put their entire life online.  If you don’t want your friends knowing or sharing all this information about you, Facebook provides inline privacy controls so you can manage how much you want shared (though given their acquired social habits, many users won’t bother).  But even if you don’t mind sharing your details with friends, you should still be concerned that Facebook will own all the data – and has yet to reveal how they’ll share and act upon that knowledge.

ReadWriteWeb. Reactions to Facebook’s F8 Keynote. Want to know what the audience thought at the F8 event?  This infographic will at least tell you how they tweeted about it.

GigaOm. Media Companies Revisit Their AOL Days with Facebook.  Among the news from Facebook’s F8 Conference yesterday was the partnerships with media companies such as The Washington Post, The Guardian newspaper, The Daily from News Corp. and Yahoo News that will allow users to consume their news from within Facebook.  Many news commentators are calling this approach a “walled garden” (e.g. users get everything they need inside FB and will never venture out), comparing it to the early days of the Internet when AOL offered users a single portal to make it easier to navigate the scary new online world.  But is anyone really still scared to explore the Web on their own?

What about you?  Do you like what Facebook announced at F8?  What have you read about the announcements that makes the new features sound enticing?  I’m open to being converted, after all.

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Does Your Business Have a Story?

your company story

Source: bcarsonradio.wordpress.com

An editorial in last week’s Sunday New York Times, called What Happened to Obama? got me thinking.  The article, by Drew Westen, talks about Obama’s failure to ‘tell us a story.’  The author describes his disappointment when he listened to the president’s inauguration speech back in Jan. 2009, disappointing because there was no story told to give context and meaning to the financial calamity people were experiencing:

Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety.

While I found the claims about Obama to be compelling and thought-provoking, it got me thinking more generally about story-telling, that form of art and entertainment that goes back as far as human history.  The article’s key point is that stories matter because they speak to people in a way that straight facts do not.  Stories appeal not just to the rational mind but to the heart, and that’s ultimately what reaches people, what causes them to act, to care, or even to change their mind.

Story-Telling Your Business

So what does this have to do with small business marketing?  The same thing it has to do with marketing anywhere.  Marketing, if done well, is all about telling stories.  There are short-term stories – why a new product matters, how your customers are using your products to solve their problems, what trends are shaping your industry, etc.  These are the stories companies generally issue press releases about and, if compelling enough, get press or blog coverage for.  Then there is a company’s primary, defining story – the story that sticks in customers’ minds about who the company is.  Some would call this a ‘brand narrative’; I would call it a company’s story.  If you want your company to be remembered and your brand to ‘stick’ in the minds of your target audience, you need to have a strong story.  And your marketing – both online and offline – needs to consistently tell that story.

What Kind of Story?

What does it mean for your company to have a story?  Does it mean you have to create a fairy tale around yourself?  Does it simply mean reciting your company history?  Do you need your employees or executives to be colorful characters?  The answer is a partial yes to all these questions, but those are not the questions to start with.  The first question is the one that all sales & marketing folks know the answer to: what is your unique selling proposition?  Start with that, and you can begin to build a story around it.

For some help with the story part, I return to Drew Westen’s column again, where he says (rightly) that “our brains evolved to expect stories with a particular structure, with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought.”  Any good PR person or journalist knows these basic rules about story-telling.  But many marketers do not; those who don’t often default to just relating facts about what products they offer and why you should buy.  Here are some great examples of companies whose brands tell a story:

Apple Computer. The villain was drab, boring business computers in the 1980’s and too many look-alike cell phones in the 2000’s.  Apple’s ‘cool’ products entered the scene, gained recognition from creative advertising and wildly loyal customers, and achieved market share and profit victories because of its ‘insanely good’ product design.  That’s a good story.

Facebook. The villain was “your parents’ computing approach” – namely, email and Internet search.  Facebook, designed for the college crowd (who then grew into the GenX & GenY workforce) defined a new approach to communication and networking and fueled the next tech revolution of social media.  This story was good enough to merit a movie and win an Academy Award.

Subway. The villain here is high-fat fast food chains, and the victims are health-conscious consumers.  Enter fresh, healthy Subway, who’s been around for years, under-appreciated, and now getting a second look from obesity-sickened Americans.  This well-timed story found fertile ground in the health-food movement.

Does your business have a story?  Are you telling that story, or is it being told for you?  Now is the time to seize your own narrative and cement it in your customers’ minds so they can retell it for you.

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Roundup of Google+ First Impressions

Google+ pictureIf you follow anything about marketing or technology, you’ve probably heard about Google+.  The new social media channel, released to a limited invitation-only trial on June 28, has taken the tech world by storm.  Since there are plenty of news stories – and Google itself — to explain the new features, I’ll give you instead a roundup of the early impressions and opinions from early trial users.  It seems to be generating as much enthusiasm among Search gurus as HP and the DH2 is among Harry Potter fans.  Here’s what people are saying after the first 2 weeks:

Google+ Circles more like real relationships. The most talked-about new feature is Circles, which allow you to segment your social relationships more like people do in real life (define what circles you travel in socially, separate friends, work, family, etc.).  Wall St. Journal columnist Katherine Boehret, invited to test the Google+ trial, gives a clear overview here.

Targeted for Business. While Facebook was designed with college students in mind, Google+ seems a better fit for businesses.  Google has plans to start a test phase for businesses today, so expect more light to be shed soon on how business can make best use of it.  With high expectations and baited breath, many are waiting to see if and how Google is the social business network we’ve all been waiting for.  Read here about Google’s social business plans.

Game changing for small biz. Google+ Circles, a real-life way to segment your social connections online, will allow small businesses to ‘go social’ with their customers more easily, and will make it easy to join circles of your favorite local businesses through an integration with Google Place listings.  Andrew Shotland writes a great piece on Google Plus Google Places.

Plenty of hype & navel-gazing. Since the trial has been by invitation only, Google has heightened the mystery and gotten the pundits talking.  Like lots of big tech announcements, the initial hype may be a tad overblown. “Once Google+ users start discussing topics other than Google+ then it might get interesting…”  quipped one commenter on TechCrunch.

Google’s Trojan Horse. Devin Coldewey (TechCrunch) claims (convincingly) that the latest Google announcement is not only a replacement for Facebook and/or Twitter, but Google’s long-range plan to take over the Internet. “Sure, right now it seems like it’s aimed at Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter, but when the stakes are this high, you better believe they’ve got guns pointed at everyone in the room.”  Yikes.

Inevitable Facebook comparisons.  Google has been widely rumored to have Facebook in its sights, so the comparisons are rampant.  Some of the more interesting include Rafe Needleman’s (CNet) claim that “Google+ Makes Me Happier Than Facebook,” Ryan Singel’s (Wired) preference for Google+ over Facebook on Privacy, …and Mashable’s Facebook Defectors survey results from voters who said “I’ve already left. Facebook is so dead to me” (24.4% of votes at this writing).

It’s still social media. While lots of pundits are saying it’s an improvement, Google+ still gives you the unending stream of comments from all your connections.  Here’s some early advice on how to manage it before it manages you.  Peter Meyers (SEOMoz) advises how to invest only 15 Minutes a Day on Google+.

If you’re not one of the early trial users, be sure to get on Google’s waiting list so you can discover Google+ for yourself!

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3 Case Studies – How Marketing Numbers Tell a Story

June 28, 2011 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Web Analytics — Tags: ,

I hear lots of colleagues in the online marketing world talk about how they increased traffic by 20% or bumped conversions by 50% or grew Facebook fans by the hundreds or moved a search ranking to page 1.  But I rarely hear the story that goes along with it.  Numbers without a supporting story are like words without a sentence – there’s no context and therefore no real meaning.  And most importantly, there’s no insight to be gained about where to go next.  For numbers to be useful in marketing, they must be related to goals and must be understood in the context of the underlying business.  Here are three examples from companies we’ve helped out recently.

web analytics case study

from Wikipedia

Cloud computing company.  This company has seen website traffic drop by 10% in the past year and conversions have remained flat – not good news, at first glance.  But that doesn’t tell the real story.  On closer examination, their direct traffic (people who have bookmarked their site or enter the URL directly) is actually down 16%, while first-time organic search visitors are up by 17% and referring sites traffic increased by 22%.  At the same time, despite the traffic decline, their business is suddenly booming. What’s going on here?  A few contextual elements tell the story:

  • Thanks to SEO efforts and inbound link building, ranking for critical keywords broke onto the first SERP page, causing more searchers to find the company and click through to their site.
  • Because of guest blogging, with valuable links placed on numerous well-regarded blogs, the site has started drawing more referral traffic.
  • Website visitors are calling the phone number published on the site, and company salespeople are following up and closing new business.
  • BUT, visitors aren’t returning to the site, which has caused a drop in direct traffic.  The site has no blog and no source of freshly updated content – so there’s little incentive for people to return.
  • NEXT STEP is to create a company blog and, with regular compelling articles, build a reason for visitors to return.  Promoting the blog through social media will help spread the word that interesting things are happening and encourage followers to check it out regularly.  Additional call-to-action buttons will allow them to nurture leads through followup emails.

web analytics case study 2Financial Trading newsletter. This publisher typically suffers when the stock market is up and does well when stocks are down and people need advice.   But during the market’s recent rise they’ve increased organic traffic to their site by 15%.  That growth is now slowing and the percentage of first-time visitors is declining.  What’s happening?

  • The steady rise in stock prices has caused fewer people to actively search for financial advice and newsletters, so search demand is down.
  • BUT, the site has a high return rate by existing subscribers, as the publisher posts valuable information in a ‘question of the week’ format that clients love.
  • NEXT STEP is to launch a social media campaign and build a following so that loyal clients can share the weekly tips and bring more new visitors to the website to sign up for a trial subscription.

web analytics case study 3High-end Furniture Retailer. This retailer of fine custom-designed furniture has an excellent reputation and a loyal customer following.  They have a beautiful website with lots of pictures but since they don’t sell online, they are looking for ways to use their web presence to drive retail and ‘walk-by’ traffic.  What’s the best solution?

  • They don’t want to try “local deal” services like Groupon because it may tarnish their reputation.
  • They’ve tried Facebook but it hasn’t caught on well and they don’t really have deals to offer.
  • BUT, PPC campaigns have driven search traffic up by 15% in 6 months
  • Local SEO efforts have added 1500 new local visitors per month, coming  from a Place Page with positive customer reviews.
  • The company just had their best Spring Sale results in 3 years.
  • NEXT STEP:  Since search marketing seems to work well for them, focus on a content creation campaign that will help them rank for additional search terms.  And since beautiful pictures are a key asset, get pictures loaded into Google Merchant so Google Shopping customers can see them and come to the website for more.

The first takeaway here is that numbers have to be understood in context of the business goals and circumstances.  And secondly, finding what works may take several rounds of trying different tactics, measuring results, and determining what works best for you.

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Is Your Website Doing Its Marketing Job?

June 1, 2011 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Web Analytics — Tags: ,

Is your web site doing the job you need it to do?  Last week I addressed how to Create Awareness by bringing traffic to your website, which happens mostly through activities off your site – search engines, online advertising and social media.  Once these tactics have led people to your site, you need to convert them from visitors into qualified leads and customers.   That’s when your website needs to step up and do its job.

online marketing & how it works (more…)

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Turn Your Website Into a Lead Generation Machine

May 24, 2011 Filed under: Content Marketing,Internet Marketing — Tags: ,

Marketing your business has always been about creating awareness and generating leads.  In the world of online marketing, the goals are no different.  Your web presence can be your primary vehicle for creating awareness and generating leads.  And better yet, you can test, measure and continually improve your effectiveness and success in reaching those goals.  You can, in fact, turn your website into a lean, mean, lead-generating machine.

Is your web presence doing the job?  This first of a 2-part series will talk about how to Create Awareness  – that is, bring traffic to your website.  Part 2 will address how to Generate Leads – e.g. convert your website visitors into qualified leads and customers.

Who is Your Target Visitor and What Are They Looking For?

When you generate traffic to your website, you are filling the top of your sales funnel.   You’ll want to make sure you understand who your target audience is and what they’re looking for, so you don’t attract a lot of ‘tire kickers’ who are unlikely to buy.  If you want the other end of the funnel to produce qualified buyers, follow these 3 simple steps on the front end.

courtesy of Hubspot

Define your target visitor.   Who are you trying to attract?  What is their basic demographic profile (age, gender, location, income/education level, occupation, etc.)?  How would you describe their personality, attitudes, values, lifestyle?  A  45-year-old work-at-home mom, for example, may be concerned about safety and time-savings, while a 24-year-old urban professional is probably more interested in status and mobility.   Create a mental picture of your target audience, and make that the focus of all your online content.

Define your keywords. With this mental picture in mind, create a list of keywords your target audience would use when looking for a product or service like yours.  You’ll add to this list over time, and it will be a critical resource for planning your online marketing campaigns.

Find where your target audience spends time online. Using your keywords, search social media like Twitter and Facebook to find where your target audience is active online.  Listen to their conversations and find out what topics they care about.  Search blog directories to find who is blogging on topics related to yours. Read through blog comments to find out what your target audience is thinking, reacting to, talking about.  The web offers unlimited resources for exploring your market, and your keywords are your navigation tools.  Be sure to just listen at first; you can jump in with your own comments later.

(more…)

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5 Questions to Diagnose Your Website Bounce Rate

The first 5 seconds of a visitor’s experience on your website will most likely determine what they do next.  If the user is not attracted or impressed, they will “bounce” or quickly leave your website – and then likely visit your competitors’ websites instead.  Google measures your bounce rate, and you can track it in Google Analytics; anything over 50% is potentially problematic – and an opportunity for improvement.   Here the key questions to ask yourself if your bounce rate is high and your visitors aren’t sticking around on your site.

bounce rate from confusionQuestion 1:  Are they confused?

The first job of your website’s Homepage is to tell visitors who you are and what they should do next.  If they don’t find the answers quickly, they won’t  hang around and try to figure it out.  Introducing your company and providing clear calls-to-action can be accomplished in many ways. 

  • Company logo and tagline. Make sure your identifiable branding logo is clearly visible and accompanied by a short tagline that explains the essence of what you do.
  • Short Description. In addition to your tagline (a phrase), place a clear description (2-3 sentences) of your company’s value proposition in a prominent location on your homepage.
  • Benefits.  Add a brief bulleted list of the key benefits your product or service offers to customers, with visually clickable links for more information.
  • Video. Consider a short introductory video to tell your story.  According to ComScore, consumers who view videos on websites are 64% more likely to buy something from the site, and they also tend to spend more time (up to two minutes) on webpages per visit.
  • Desired Call-To-Action Activities. What do you want your visitors to do on your website?  If you want to collect personal information for future follow-up, provide a compelling reason for visitors to give it to you.  Download a white paper or e-book, offer a free trial or demo, sign up for an event or webinar, or fill out a contact form…whatever your most valuable call-to-action activity, it should be clearly and quickly obvious on your Home page.   And it should be easy to do – don’t complicate things by asking for multiple steps.
  • Obvious links to core content.  For the products/services you most want to market and sell, add a direct single-click link from your Home page to each product/service page.  This will not only help your visitors access desired information quickly, it will also direct search engines to the information they should index.

(more…)

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New Social Media Marketing Industry Report is Here

social media examiner guyLast week, the third annual Social Media Marketing Industry Report was released by Social Media Examiner.  The results, based on completed surveys by 3342 marketers, show clearly that social media is taking the marketing world by storm.   Growth in social media usage since last year’s report is significant, with Facebook leading the way and small business gaining the most benefits.

Here are some interesting highlights that surprised me… (more…)

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Marketer, Media or Museum? The Content Curator

April 5, 2011 Filed under: Content Marketing,Internet Marketing

content curatorI just read a blog post by Joe Pulizzi at Junta42 Content Marketing about content curation.  It got me thinking.  His claim – first articulated by Rohit Bhargava in 2009 — is that, as more companies develop a content marketing strategy, a new role is emerging for a content curator, defined as:

Someone whose job it is not to create more content, but to make sense of all the content that others are creating.  To find the best and most relevant content and bring it forward.

The pendulum is swinging again, as it always does.  With the amount of content creation that has exploded since the Social Media craze began 2-3 years ago, there now exists in every field more content than anyone can take possibly absorb.  It is no wonder that curators and gatekeepers are the next evolution of digital marketing.

But wait a minute….doesn’t a curator work in a museum?  Isn’t content creation a job for the media?  And what does this mean for marketers?

For Bloggers – A Cure for Writers Block

If you’ve thought about creating a blog but suffer from writer’s block, this concept is great news for you.  You don’t necessarily have to become a star journalist overnight.  Instead, start as a curator.  Read all the blogs you can in your niche market, then sort and prioritize, hand-pick the best, and share them with your readers.  A “Top 10 posts” on a particular topic makes a great blog post. Or, find a post that stands out for you and add your voice by sharing your reactions on your own blog (like I’m doing here!).  Always link back to the original writer, of course, and invite feedback if you want to make it a dialog.  The good news is, you don’t need to write your own blog from scratch.  Think of it as part of an ongoing industry conversation, where your role is to bring forward the best-of-class thinking for the benefit – and involvement – of your unique audience.

For Social Media Types – Sharing With Purpose

This is what most of us do everyday on Facebook and Twitter: share interesting information and links with our friends and peers.  But content curation takes it a step further and makes your sharing part of a larger content strategy.  As a content curator, you don’t just share what seems interesting; you prune through the overload, find what’s most valuable to your audience, and share it – branded with your perspective.  Make sure the content you’re sharing is consistent with the brand or image you want to convey — and that it feeds social media followers to related content on your blog or website.  The idea is to share the right information at the right time, to the right people.  As Eric Tsai says in his Business 2 Community blog, attention is the new currency online, and content curators are the gatekeepers to increasingly limited attention spans.

For Webmasters —  Digital Assets That Drive Traffic and Conversions

A comprehensive content marketing strategy should have your company website at its center.  A content curator will aggregate your company’s best digital assets for display, much like a museum curator creates a thoughtful exhibit to display historical or artistic artifacts.  The criteria for displaying content on your website should be all about what drives traffic and conversions – and you can back that up with web analytics to show you what works..   Most companies have a wealth of information to share; the important question is what information on your website will lead visitors to the next step you want them to take.

In a world of information overload, the attention will soon turn to those who can help us make sense of it and bring the cream to the top.  Build a reputation as a trusted content curator in your line of business and your audience will return again and again.

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